Basketball splits games at tourney

Jon Young

The NMU men’s basketball team kicked off its season last weekend as it traveled to Palm Beach, Fla. to participate in the Palm Beach Atlantic Tournament.

For their first game of the season the Wildcats took on tournament host Palm Beach Atlantic Sailfish on Friday, Nov. 12. The Sailfish came away with the 77-60 victory. Junior guard Raymond McElroy thought the ’Cats lacked team chemistry early on, but improved as the game went on.

“You could tell that we really didn’t have any chemistry out there,” McElroy said. “I think as the game went on, we got better and better.”

The Wildcats fell behind in the first half as Palm Beach shot 58.1 percent from the field and made six three pointers. NMU had 14 turnovers in the first half and found themselves trailing 51-32 at the break. The ’Cats shot 42.3 percent for the game, and only 38.5 percent from the free throw line. First year head coach Doug Lewis knows his team has to convert on more free throws.

“Two big things about the game of basketball is you have to make free throws and you have to make shots, and we shot poor percentages from both sides,” Lewis said. “I think our guys learned from that game.”

Junior center Jared Benson led the ’Cats with 12 points and seven boards, junior guard DeAndre Taylor chipped in 10 points, with sophomore center Mylan Murphy and Raymont McElroy each adding eight.

On Saturday, Nov. 13, the Wildcats were back on the hardwood to take on the Lynn University Fighting Knights. The ’Cats rebounded from their first game and dropped the Fighting Knights 69-61 to finish the tournament 1-1. The Wildcats played much better team defense and forced Lynn into having a rough shooting night. Lewis said he thought the team’s chemistry and defense were the keys to victory.

“It’s a coincidence that Lynn was probably a much better club than Palm Beach, and we played that game like we played together for the last two years,” Lewis said. “Our guys really came out and played good team defense, and it looked like we had some chemistry.”

The ‘Cats were able to hold the Fighting Knights to 32.8 percent shooting from the field and caused 20 turnovers on the defensive end. The Wildcats shot 44.7 percent from the field and improved on free throw shooting, hitting 62.2 percent from the charity strip. McElroy felt that the post play and defense was the key to the victory.

“It depends on our big men more than anything; it makes it so much easier for the guards to penetrate and shoot when our big men are scoring and being a threat in there,” McElroy said. “I felt like overall our defense just picked up in the second game.”

For the second game in a row, center Jared Benson lead the team in scoring with 14 points, and he blocked three shots. DeAndre Taylor added 11 points and seven rebounds for the ’Cats, while freshmen forward Matthew Craggs added 12 points off the bench. Raymont McElroy added nine points and five assists to pace the Wildcats.

On Saturday, Nov. 20 at 1 p.m., the Wildcats host Spring Arbor in the home opener at the Berry Events Center. Lewis said the team is going to work on defensive communication and ball movement going into this week.

“I think if we do some of those things, we will be okay this weekend, especially playing at home in our opener,” Lewis said.