BOISE, Idaho — Selection Sunday is still six days away, but the madness of March officially arrived on Sunday, thanks to a buzzer-beater hit by Northern Arizona's Oakland Fort to seal a 1-point upset win for the #9-seed Lumberjacks over the #1 seed in the Big Sky Tournament, Eastern Washington.
The shot earned NAU a bye into the semifinals on Tuesday, where they will play the winner of #4-seed Montana and #5-seed Idaho State, who play Monday night in Boise, Idaho.
Fort says he is still feeling the emotions of hitting the 28-foot 3-pointer, which went viral Sunday night, as the video tweeted out by the Big Sky Conference now has almost 400,000 views.
"I'm still a little emotionally driven about it right now," Fort said. "But celebrating with the guys and just doing it for for the older guys. I felt really good about myself for my teammates, especially for the older dudes. I just loved doing it for them. So yeah, that was really nice."
However, Fort says he doesn't love all of the attention that the shot has brought.
"I'm not a big attention guy," Fort said. "It was a little weird for me because it was just like all at once like right after the game just a ton of stuff going through my phone. But (the) first person I texted back was definitely my mom and then hit the rest of the family members and eventually ended up getting to my dad and then dealt with my friends and everybody else that hit me. It was a different feeling. Never had something like that happened to me before."
So, how did it feel to see that shot fall for head coach Shane Burcar, who has spent the last five years in Flagstaff working his way from assistant coach to interim head coach and has spent the past two seasons as the Lumberjacks head coach?
"Well, it sure felt good," Burcar said. "When when Oakland's shot went up, I looked up in the air (and) I said, that's in. And you know what? We talked before the game, we had a choice to win January, February, (or) March, (and) we picked March. So, I mean, the feeling was tremendous knowing that we're staying a couple more days, and just the work that our guys have put into the whole season of belief, and it all pays off."
Fort, a freshman guard who played at Sunnyslope High School in Phoenix for head coach Ray Portela, came into the Big Sky Tournament ice-cold from behind the arc. His last 3-pointer came on February 6 against Idaho State. But since the start of the tournament, Fort is 6/8 from deep. He says consistent work has been the key to finding his shot.
"No matter what, no matter how you're playing, I just feel like you still got to stay consistent with your work and believe in yourself," Fort said. "And I feel like that's what I've been doing all season and (it's) just coming at a perfect time right now. But I couldn't do it without any of my teammates or from my coaches."
For Burcar, part of what makes this moment so special is seeing the success of Fort, a player he spent years working to come up I-17 to play in Flagstaff.
"This guy right here is the longest person ever I ever courted in my life," Burcar said. "For two and a half years, I remember him playing at Chaparral High School against Gilbert High and I was the interim head coach at that point. I said I'm going for it. We had a good relationship for two and a half years we had to beat a couple of really good schools.
"His career in the valley is well documented," Burcar added. "The credit I give to the Fort family and Oakland is that he really has opened I-17 now. For someone of Oakland's caliber to come up to NAU and the success of Sunnyslope in a program with a great coach in coach Ray Portela. It really has opened up I-17 and our recruiting has blossomed since Oakland committed in November of his senior year."
This win came after a huge weekend for the Burcar family. On Thursday, Burcar's daughter, Bella, helped lead Flagstaff High School to the 4A girls basketball state title, the school's first championship in 31 years.
"We got back up to Flagstaff at one o'clock in the morning (on Thursday and the) next day we left at 7:45 or 8:45 (for Boise)," Burcar said. "And you know what, if it means basketball continues we're good about that. But it has been a tremendous feeling. All the hard work that Bella took in winning a state championship and (I'm) so fortunate to be in a great high school and great coaching staff, and for me to be fortunate to coach these young men, let's keep it rolling."
NAU got the day off from playing on Monday, but Burcar doesn't want them to move on from the feeling of beating Eastern Washington.
"I told my guys today, Hey, don't move on," Burcar said. "Don't move on from last night mentally. Don't move on from the game with your confidence (or) as the New Age kid will say 'that swagger.' We want to keep doing that and our guys are sharp enough to know that we have work to do. But the message is absolutely don't move on keep that confidence. Let's act like the one seed."
NAU's semifinal matchup against Montana or Idaho State will be at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday and will be broadcast on ESPNU and ESPN+. If they win, the Lumberjacks would play Montana State, Weber State, or Sacramento State in the Big Sky Tournament championship game at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday. That game will be on ESPN2 and the winner will get an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.