Sall says team needs experience to adjust

Ray Bressette

The NMU men’s basketball team heads into conference play after dropping two at home against Southwest Minnesota State and Lewis University.

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Junior guard Larry Taylor (20) averages 5.5 points per game and sophomore forward Brandon Havercamp averages 4.5 points per game for 1-3 NMU. Freshman forward Brett Branstrom (21) averages 3.0 rebounds per game. (Katie Stumman NW)

The Wildcats dropped their home opener 68-53 to the Southwest Minnesota State Mustangs Thursday, Nov. 21. The ’Cats shot 36.5 percent from the floor, making 19 of 52 shots. Junior forward Justin Newell led the team in scoring with 15 points. Junior forward Chavis Mattison led the ’Cats in rebounds with eight. Senior guard Matt Zager led the Mustangs in points with 13.

Newell said they didn’t give their best defensive performance against Southwest Minnesota.

“We didn’t really show up to play defensively,” Newell said. “We fell behind early in the game and weren’t able to battle all the way back and compete. Defense needs to be our key right now at this point in the season.”

The Wildcats fell to the Lewis University Flyers, 78-68, at Berry Events Center on Sunday, Nov. 24. The Flyers jumped out to a 5-0 lead early on and lead by 14 with six minutes remaining in the half. The ’Cats were able to cut the Flyers’ lead to six just before the half, but Lewis maintained their lead throughout the entire second half. Sophomore guard Terry Nash led the team with 18 points. Newell followed with 17 and Mattison also reached double digit points with 13.

Head coach Bill Sall said the nonconference games  taught the team a lot about themselves.

“We played two very good teams that are comparable to the top teams in the GLIAC,” Sall said. “We’re still trying to figure out our game on the court. When you have as many new players as we do, every scenario we have in a game is a new experience for this team, and how we learn from them and adjust will tell us who we are.”

NMU will open conference play against the Walsh University Cavaliers at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 5 at Berry Events Center. The Cavaliers head into the game with a record of 3-1, coming off a 102-91 victory at St. Joseph College on Saturday, Nov. 23.

Sall said the ’Cats will need to be at their best heading into GLIAC play.

“Every team in this conference is well coached with great players,” Sall said. “We’re going to have to go out every night and give it our best shot. It’s a challenge we’re going to have to take and continue improving ourselves as the season goes on.”

The Wildcats will continue play at home against the Malone University Pioneers at 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7. Malone is coming off a 77-65 exhibition loss to Division I Akron University.

Before their break, the ’Cats will start their GLIAC road play by traveling to Findlay at 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14 and Hillsdale at 8 p.m. Monday, Dec. 16.

Junior guard Larry Taylor said his teammates will need to maintain focus during the team’s two-week break.

“We have to be ready to get back to work as soon as we get back,” Taylor said. “We have to hit the gym and be hungry to play, so that when we come back we can pick up right where we left off.”

NMU will continue play after the break with a pair of home games against the Tiffin Dragons at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 2 and versus the Ohio Dominican Panthers at 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 4 at Berry Events Center.

The ’Cats will hit the road again to play Ashland University. They will take on the Eagles at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 9. The Wildcats will then travel to Painesville, Ohio to take on the Lake Erie Storm at 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 11.

Newell said the team looks forward to the conference schedule ahead.

“We’ve got a lot of games coming up,” Newell said. “I know we haven’t played the best we can yet, which gets me excited to play.”