Men’s Basketball aims for strong season

Von Lanier

The NMU Men’s Basketball team opened the season with one win and one loss after facing two GLIAC division leaders at the GLVC/GLIAC Challenge in Romeoville, Illinois last
weekend. The Wildcats toppled the University of Wisconsin-Parkside Rangers 97-75 in a dominant performance at the Neil Carey Arena on Saturday.

re-basketball8-etThe ’Cats made 10 of 17 3-pointers during the second half against Parkside. The team also made 36 of 75 overall shots and 91 percent from the free-throw line.

The top scorers for the Wildcats were sophomore guard Naba Echols with 24 points, eight rebounds and three assists. Followed by sophomore forward Isaiah Johnson who put up 23 points, eight rebounds and one assist.

Echols said it means a great deal to him to be a part of a “great traditional program” that serves as a family environment.

“This year with such a young group of guys we’re not putting any expectations on the team,” Echols said. “We’re just going into every game trying to play harder than the other team and see how it comes out.”

On Sunday, the ’Cats continued their fight to gain an advantage in the GLIAC division with a game against the Lewis University Flyers, resulting in an 87-83 loss and putting them at the ninth overall spot in the conference. The streaky shooting from Saturday’s game did not come into play as much during the ’Cats game on Sunday with a low 41.8 percent in overall field goals made and only making 78.6 percent of their free-throws.

Freshman forward Will Carius led the ’Cats against Lewis with 29 points, 13 rebounds and one assist. Senior guard Simelton Miles led the Flyers with 17 points, four rebounds and three assists.

Head coach Bill Sall said he sees a lot of good things with the team given the first set of games they’ve played but there is also room for growth looking ahead.

“The nucleus of our team has the makeup of a team that can do a lot of tremendous things offensively and a working progress on the defensive side,” Sall said.

Sall said the team’s goal is to have the ability to be in the top eight teams of the conference and stay optimistic about success on the court.

“One thing that is evident is that we have enough skill and players that can score,” Sall said in regards to the ’Cats performance over the weekend. “I was very impressed with how well we shared the ball and I liked our toughness.”

Despite finding flaws in defensive efforts by the ’Cats, Sall is confident that his players possess the talent they need to move up in the conference.

“Both games we were undersized like crazy as far as the competition we’re facing and we were able to withstand that. On the other side of the ball—which is just as important—defensively, we have a lot of work to do. We’ve got to make a commitment to have everyone step up and do their job.”

Charles Bell, assistant coach, said he wants to see daily growth from the team with the youth  they possess.

“By the time we get to league games in our conference play, we’ll be playing at a level that we need to be at in order to be competitive within a tough GLIAC league,” Bell said.

He said defensively the team is performing better than they were last season and he is impressed with how they are finding ways to create offensive opportunities from good defense.

“I was impressed with our pace,” Bell said. “Our players put in a lot of work with conditioning and being able to play at that pace for a lot longer.”

Senior forward Brett Branstrom said he was impressed with the resilience of his teammates on the road and how hard the freshmen players stepped up.

“Obviously, we’ve had some down years for a little while but we really want to be a part of rebuilding this program and it’s really important to us,” Branstrom said.

The NMU Wildcats are preparing to face the Minnesota State University Moorhead Dragons at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 18 in the Berry Events Center.