Heading into the holiday break, the Northern Arizona University men’s basketball team had posted a 6-6 record and was looking for a spark with the start of conference play just a week away. Enter the quiet, 6-foot, 10-inch Ryan McCurdy, who had scored a combined four points in three previous career starts. The results have been impressive.

McCurdy joined the starting lineup against Pacific Lutheran for an injured Kyle Landry out of necessity, but has proved to be a valuable player during the recent winning streak and fast start in Big Sky Conference play by the team. NAU won eight consecutive games, including the best start in league play at 7-0 since the 1998-99 season. And McCurdy has not let go of his starting role, helping the team to a 10-1 overall record in his 10 starts this season.

“Ryan has really stepped up his play since the Christmas break,” said head coach Mike Adras. “It has been a good thing for us since we lost Kyle Landry the day we got back from Christmas break.”

With Landry out for what would be two games and limited action in two more, McCurdy had to contribute now. And after averaging 4.3 points per game in the first 12 games, the Mesa native scored eight points against Pacific Lutheran in 15 minutes. He has gotten better with each game, averaging 8.5 points per game in the eight-game streak.

But it is his play in Big Sky games that has really stood out. In the conference opener, he scored a career-high 10 points. He followed with two big games in the road sweep of Weber State and Idaho State. Against the Wildcats, he scored a season-high 12 points, following with 12 again two nights later in Pocatello against the Bengals. Overall, he has reset or tied his single-game career best five times this season.

“Something has clicked in my game,” said McCurdy, who earned honorable mention honors on theArizona Republic Class 5A All-State team after his senior season at Mesa Highland High School. “I know what I have to do out there, and I know what my role is. I know exactly the mentality I need to come out with every game.”

McCurdy’s experience has shown on the defensive end as well, according to Adras.

“Mac is really doing well at both ends of the floor,” Adras said. “He is not only scoring points but his presence on defense has been evident. He does things that don’t appear on the stat sheet. He is rotating over to help somebody. He is trapping a player here. He is doing the little things that add up to big points on coaches’ stat sheet.”

While not unexpected, the recent surge has been welcomed. McCurdy contributed as a freshman, seeing action in all 28 games with one start (Eastern Washington), averaging 3.3 points and 2.6 rebounds. He had a season-high eight points against Oral Roberts and grabbed a season-high 10 rebounds at Tulsa. With a strong off-season in the weight room and the valuable game experience, the impact of both areas has shown in his play.

“A lot of it was going to the weight room and getting stronger,” said McCurdy of his improved play this season. “I am putting on more weight and having last year’s experience was really key for me.”

McCurdy, a business major, plays an important part in a talented trio for the Lumberjacks in the post along with Landry and Will Hensley. They have combined to average 18.2 points and 11.4 rebounds. Added to the production of Ruben Boykin, Jr., underneath the basket (13.2 points per game and 7.7 rebounds per game), it is no surprise that NAU is leading the conference in rebounding and stands in first place in the league after three weeks of conference play.

“I want to host and win the Big Sky Tournament,” said McCurdy, who lists games against in-state teams Arizona and Arizona State among his early career highlights. “I want to keep up the play I have had lately and keep the same numbers going. I want to do all I can to help this team.”

While McCurdy’s individual play has been significant, the Lumberjacks are succeeding with a total team effort. With the tall trio, the outside shooting of Steve Sir and Kelly Golob and strong guard play fromTyrone Bazy and Josh Wilson, the Lumberjacks have generated enthusiasm across campus and the Flagstaff community, shown in the two crowds against the Montana schools that ranked among the top 10 in school history.

“I feel like I am putting forth effort that our coach wants me to put,” McCurdy said. “This is big for us and proves how much more comfortable we are mentally and physically. I am glad that coach believes in me. I am really looking forward to the rest of the Big Sky Conference.”

The conference might not feel the same about meeting the Lumberjacks.