Sall embarks on third return to Ferris

Ray Bressette

NMU head coach Bill Sall is three years into his tenure with the Wildcats, meaning he is also three years distanced from his 11-year head coaching run with the Ferris State Bulldogs.

But Sall said when the ’Cats face his former team this weekend, who are ranked 23rd in the country, memories still rest in Jim Wink Arena and with his former players and coaches.

“This one will be significant in the fact that it will be my last time facing students I recruited and actually played for me,” Sall said. “There’s certainly significance in that, but in the end it comes down to another opponent we have to go out and play.”

The Wildcats have seen success against the Bulldogs in Sall’s first two seasons at NMU, splitting the four games between the teams. Last season, the ’Cats upset the No. 17-ranked Bulldogs 73-71 in Big Rapids with a go-ahead basket from senior forward Chavis Mattison in the game’s final moments to steal the
road win.

“Our guys seem to always get up for this game,” Sall said. “We started strong this year and have struggled a bit recently, but we have confidence to ace these types of opponents. Every team you face is tough, and you have to be prepared for them.”

NMU will play the Grand Valley State Lakers at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 14 before heading to Big Rapids.

The Lakers are in a five-way tie for fourth out of the 16 teams in the GLIAC, holding a 5-3 record in the conference and 11-3 overall.

GVSU sits fifth after tiebreakers.  Ferris is right above GVSU at fourth in the conference, with an identical 5-3 conference and 11-3 overall.

The Bulldogs’ offense is averaging 79.4 points per game compared to NMU’s 66.6 points per game. Ferris has three players averaging double digit points per game, including senior center Jared Stolicker (17.1), senior forward Josh Fleming (14.1) and senior forward James Chappel. (12.5). Stolicker is leading the GLIAC in rebounds per game averaging 10.4, while also averaging the third best field goal percentage at 66.7 percent.

The ’Cats have been the victim of late game losses, dropping three games by one basket or less while also letting a double-digit lead over the No. 21-ranked Ashland Eagles slip out of their grasp last weekend to lose 81-75 in overtime on Thursday, Jan. 7 in Ashland, Ohio.

“We’ve had three games that have been decided by the last possession of the game and haven’t won any of them, which is one of the most frustrating things with our team right now.”

“We need to learn from it,.We’re hoping it happens since we’ve been through this three times. When the next last-possession game comes up, we will know how to play and finish the right way.”

Junior forward Brett Branstrom and freshman guard Naba Echols left Thursday’s game with concussions.

The ’Cats went on to lose their next match on the road trip to the Lake Erie College Storm 63-54 on Saturday, Jan. 9.

“Outplaying your opponent for 39 minutes doesn’t do any good if you can’t do it for 40 minutes,” Sall said.

NMU’s 2-6 conference record has landed them 14th in the conference, three games behind the eighth and final GLIAC playoff spot that is held
by Findlay.

“We have to worry about ourselves right now,” Sall said. “We’ve put the cart before the horse with our league-watching, and we have to get our game right. We’re not even halfway through our season, so it’s a matter of figuring out if we can continue to improve each week. We have not yet come close to reaching our potential. We need to get everyone on the same page with their game, and we’ll start showing what we’re capable of on the scoreboard.”