Winning at home has been something NMU head coach Doug Lewis has emphasized all year and last weekend the ’Cats attempted to build momentum heading into next season. NMU split their remaining home games with a 50-66 loss against Lake Erie on Thursday, Feb. 17 and a 72-68 come-from-behind win against Ashland University on Saturday, Feb. 19. The win against Ashland came on the heels of a loss that left head coach Doug Lewis apologizing to the fan base.
“I just want to apologize to the community, to Northern Michigan, all the fans and students,” Lewis said. “That display of basketball is not an indication of how we are going to play here.”
The game got off to a bad start when junior center and leading scorer Jared Benson took a shot to the face and suffered a broken nose with 11:17 left in the first half. Benson wouldn’t return to the game and the ’Cats (3-14 GLIAC, 8-16 overall) had a hard time finding an offensive rhythm. The ‘Cats shot 37.2 percent for the game and committed 20 turnovers.
“If he’s not in there we’re pretty much toast,” Lewis said. “The shots that we do get open are because of him, now with him out of the lineup there’s no open shots.”
Junior forward DeAndre Taylor paced the ’Cats with 15 points, but unfortunately also injured his hand in the loss. Freshman forward Matt Craggs chipped in 13 points and sophomore forward Mylan Murphy added a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
With only a day off between games, Lewis put his team to work during practice to emphasize the effort he wanted to see on the court.
“We were going to be a track team for the rest of the season if we didn’t get this effort together,” Lewis said. “You know what I mean by a track team, we weren’t going to pick up a ball for the rest of the season.”
The strategy worked as the ’Cats came out with an improved energy on Saturday to force a 72-68 win against Ashland. Craggs had a big game for the ’Cats scoring 20 points, including a game tying three pointer with 1:32 left.
“We played hard and came out with a victory. It feels good to win,” Craggs said. “We just stuck together and kept playing defense.”
A game after breaking his nose Benson was back in the lineup and scored the game winning layup with 39 seconds left off the assist from junior guard Martin Gross. Freshmen guard Chris Paquin sealed the game by hitting two free throws with three seconds left.
Craggs’s 20 point, eight rebound performance paced the ’Cats while Gross chipped in 15 and five assists. Murphy had 14 points while Benson added 10 to round out the ’Cats scoring. Lewis had high praise for the play of Craggs.
“He’s the best freshman in this league,” Lewis said. “If he doesn’t get freshman of the year its highway robbery, the kid is such a competitor. He’s a great all around basketball player and the great thing is we have him for three more years.”
The ’Cats hope to build momentum heading into next year as they play there last two games of the season this weekend. On Thursday, Feb. 24 they travel to Midland, Mich. to take on the Northwood University Timberwolves (7-10 GLIAC, 10-16 overall). Then on Saturday, Feb. 26 the ’Cats conclude their season against the Saginaw Valley State University Cardinals (8-9 GLIAC, 12-12 overall). The Wildcats beat the T’wolves at home, but lost to Saginaw Valley earlier this season.