Hot shooting propels men’s basketball to wins

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NMU sophomore forward Dolapo Olayinka posterizes a McKendree University defender during last weeks GLIAC/GVC Challenge. Photo by Neil Flavin

Nate Bellville

The first regular season games for the Northern Michigan University Men’s Basketball team were the ones to remember, in particular for senior guard/forward Isaiah Johnson.

The all-GLIAC First-Team player’s efforts were showcased as the Wildcats cruised to a sweep in the GLIAC/GVC Challenge with 93-70 win over McKendree University (MU) Bearcats and a 77-59 victory over the Lewis University (LU) Flyers.

Johnson’s performances lauded him for GLIAC Player of the Week and catapulted him into the 1,000-point club, becoming the 32nd player in team history to do so. However, he credits his teammates for helping him receive this award.

“Everybody stepped up. Not one person didn’t come in without energy and didn’t want to do anything,” Johnson said. “Some players who haven’t played in a [college] basketball game got significant minutes in those games.”

The team also fought to a 64-52 comeback win over the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs Tuesday night to improve to 3-0.

“I was happy overall with how we played,” head coach Bill Sall said. “The first game I thought we had a few jitters, but our defensive performance for both games were really, really good.”

After trading three-pointers to start Saturday’s game, NMU jumped out to an early 18-7 lead. The Bearcats trimmed the lead down to two points, but back-to-back layups by sophomore forward Dolapo Oliyanka and senior guard Kenton Mack made it 30-20. The teams traded baskets in the waning minutes until junior guard Sam Taylor’s 3-pointer helped the ’Cats hold on to a 49-39 lead at intermission.

Johnson responded with a three-pointer and a jump shot, extending their lead to eight more points out of the intermission. The Wildcats pulled away as Johnson’s basket and redshirt-freshman center Troy Summers’s layup shot and free throw made the game 71-54. NMU’s offense continued to pull away and they would cruise on to a 93-70 victory where Johnson led the team in scoring with 24 points, while senior guard Naba Echols added 21.

Johnson quickly reached the 1,000-point mark on a seven-point solo run to start out Sunday’s game. The Flyers brought the game to 10-9, but NMU pulled away with three-point shots from Johnson and junior guard Marcus Matelski. The Wildcats went on a 24-7 run to enter the halftime leading 43-24.

LU stepped up offensively as they chipped down the lead to 15 after a three from Kendale McCullum with 12 minutes left.
NMU went on their own run to extend their lead again, but the Flyers rallied back to within 17 points.

The Flyers couldn’t get closer as 3-pointers from Taylor and sophomore forward Naseer Turner sealed the 77-59 NMU victory.
Johnson finished with a career-high 33 points, followed by Echols with 15 points and game-high of eight assists.

“When you look at the film and find things to tune up, we preach effort and the ability to defend and those are things we stressed and emphasized,” Sall said.

The Wildcats will spend Thanksgiving Break at Hillsdale College at the Thanksgiving Tournament, facing off against the Ohio Dominican University Panthers on Tuesday, Nov. 20, and, the Hillsdale College Chargers on Wednesday, Nov. 21.

Johnson said the team will be challenged, but they’ll be prepared for the long travel.

“We get two good teams that are like the last opponents we faced,” Johnson said. “It’ll be a long drive and we’ll come out tired, but we have to stay focused and play as hard as we can.”