FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- Arizona Christian University's men's basketball team opened its season with an improbable and historic 92-85 exhibition game victory Wednesday night over NCAA Division 1 opponent Northern Arizona University.
Incredibly, the Firestorm never trailed and led by as many as 17 in the second half in achieving their first win ever against a Division 1 opponent. Two previous trips to Flagstaff, in 2011 and 2009, ended in losses by margins of more than 50 points.
Newcomer Brandon Newman, a 6-0 transfer from Imperial Valley Community College in California, led Arizona Christian with 27 points, sealing the win at the free throw line where he was 11 for 12. Senior 5-11 guard Talib Uqdah added 19 points. Senior Jordan Block and junior Jason Timpf added 11 points each.
Timpf led the way early, hitting three straight 3-pointers to fuel the Firestorm to a 16-4 lead early. Timpf led all scores in the first half with 11, while Northern Arizona's DeWayne Russell recorded 10. The Firestorm ended the half with a deep three by Daniel Cornelius, giving them a double digit lead at 39-29.
"Northern Arizona came out flat and we shot the ball pretty well early," said Head Coach Jeff Rutter. "In these exhibition games, NAIA/D2 programs have a big motivational advantage and we really benefited from that tonight. Our guys were pretty excited to play."
The Lumberjacks managed to record a higher field goal percentage (41.7 percent) than the Firestorm (40.0 percent), but the Firestorm knocked down seven treys to the Lumberjacks one. After scoring the first points in the game on a short hook from 6-6 sophomore Jackson Helms, the Firestorm never looked back, as they held the lead the entire game. In the first half, the Firestorm out-rebounded the Lumberjacks 20-to-16.
The Firestorm increased their lead to 59-42 with 13:14 left in the game. The Lumberjacks turned up the heat with a full court press and cut the lead to seven (69-62) with eight minutes left in the game. The Firestorm responded with four straight points from Helms, but the Lumberjacks would not go away bringing the score within four at 74-70.
The Firestorm ended the game on the free throw line, as the Lumberjacks had no choice but to foul with a minute left and down by six. The Firestorm finished the game at 42.3 percent from the three-point line and 88.5 percent from the free throw line.
Russell led the Lumberjacks with 27 points.
"They came out more aggressive and that really bothered us in the second half," said Rutter. "We had a lot of guys step up and make big plays and it was enough to hold them off.
The win marks the first time in school history that Arizona Christian has defeated an NCAA Division 1 team. The Firestorm previously lost to Northern Arizona in 2011 (103-42) and 2009 (113-60).
"I told our guys after the game to keep this in perspective," said Rutter. "This was just an exhibition, both teams are working on things and trying to find themselves. If there was significance to the game, it was with the Arizona Christian community. We had great support last year and had a good crowd of students and administration that made the trip tonight. I am pleased that we were able to honor them with our play."
Arizona Christian travels next to the Northern New Mexico College Classic Tournament where they face Fort Lewis (CO) in an exhibition game Nov. 1 at 3 p.m. (Arizona Time)