By Nick Smith-
Wednesday night Northern Arizona University will be taking on Grand Canyon University in the opening round of the College Insider.com Tournament and they’ll be doing it without their head coach.
In fact, they have no idea where he’ll even be during the game.
“I’m still trying to figure that out,” said Jack Murphy, when asked in a phone interview with Brad Cesmat Tuesday morning. “I don’t want to be a distraction to the team. I don’t want them wondering what I’m doing in the locker room or if I’m even around.”
Murphy’s absence comes as a result of one of the most memorable and controversial games in NAU basketball history. Last Friday, Murphy confronted Montana head coach Travis DeCuire after the Big Sky Conference semi-final game. A Grizzly coach briefly ran onto the court with time still remaining on the clock but received no technical from the refs, allowing Montana to escape with a 61-59 win. The postgame exchange began with Murphy allegedly telling DeCuire that he “got lucky,” which led to a mass of players and coaches pushing and shoving.
“It’s just one of those things, in the heat of the moment,” Murphy explained. “You work a long time to get to that point and you’re just fighting for your kids. In retrospect it wasn’t the best move on my part after the game.”
Big Sky commissioner Doug Fullerton agreed, suspending him for the first game of the CIT. The team will be led by assistant coach Matt Dunn for their game at GCU Arena. Dunn was an assistant at the University of Memphis before coming to NAU three seasons ago.
“He understands what we’re trying to do,” noted Murphy. “The team has to compete and play hard even without me. I have an unbelievable staff and I know they’re going to do a fantastic job. I’m just hoping after the game that they still need me as the head coach.”
The invitation to a post-season tournament is the finishing touch on what has been a positive season for the Lumberjacks. The ‘Jacks are 19-14, 11-2 at home. The team went 13-5 in conference play and had a huge win on the road against St. Mary’s (CA).
“My biggest regret is that all this stuff that happened last weekend has taken attention off the great players we have and what they’ve done this season,” said Murphy. “The year before I got here, we got three Division-I wins. We’re going for 20 (Wednesday). We’re trying to make Flagstaff a basketball destination.”
The plan to help push the Lumberjack basketball program forward will continue next year with NAU going on the road to play two big-time opponents in University of Arizona and Gonzaga.