Men’s basketball continues on historic start

%0ANMU+senior+forward%2Fguard+Isaiah+Johnson+has+been+the+spark+plug+to+the+Wildcats+hot+start.++Johnson%E2%80%99s+GLIAC-best+25+points-per-game+efforts+lauded+him+his+third++GLIAC+Player+of+the+Week+honors+this+season.+Photo+courtesy+of+NMU+Athletics

NMU senior forward/guard Isaiah Johnson has been the spark plug to the Wildcats hot start. Johnson’s GLIAC-best 25 points-per-game efforts lauded him his third GLIAC Player of the Week honors this season. Photo courtesy of NMU Athletics

Nate Bellville

Entering last weekend undefeated, the Northern Michigan University Men’s Basketball team battled to a weekend split as they lost to the Northwood University (NU) Timberwolves 76-64, but regrouped and defeated the Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU) Cardinals 67-59.

Head coach Bill Sall said they had to work hard to earn the split.

“It’s almost never too easy to win on the road,” Sall said. “After losing to Northwood, we had a little revisiting of the moment, held a few discussions and we grinded it out the next game.”

Junior center and GLIAC leader in blocks, Myles Howard said the loss at Northwood was a wake-up call for the team.

“It was a tough loss. They came out and beat us in every facet of the game,” Howard said. “I thought we came in a little overconfident, looked at their record and thought we were going to win the game.”

Howard started last Thursday’s game with a dunk, but the Timberwolves answered with two threes en route to a 7-6 lead. Both teams swapped baskets until NU pushed out to a 27-20 lead with 6:40 left. Senior guard Naba Echols’ two-point shot brought them to within five, but NU’s free throws closed out the first half, extending their lead, 39-32.

The Timberwolves pushed their lead to 15 points out of the break. A three by senior guard/forward Isaiah Johnson and a layup shot by Echols, NU scored five more points to make it 60-45. A layup by freshman forward Naseer Turner sparked the Wildcats’ late comeback attempt, but it was too late as NU handed NMU their first loss of the season, winning 76-54.

Johnson led the team with 25 points and two steals. Echols followed up with 22 points, finishing with a perfect 8-for-8 from the free-throw line.

The first half of Saturday’s game was low-scoring. SVSU led 17-15 through the first 10 minutes, but NMU would take a 26-21 lead, thanks to Johnson hitting a two-point basket and a three. A shot by sophomore forward/center Troy Summers also added to the quick rally. Both teams swapped two free throws each to close out the half with NMU leading 28-23.

The second half was neck-and-neck but shots from Johnson and junior guard Marcus Matelski brought NMU’s lead to 35-32. A layup by Johnson and three by Matelski extended the Wildcats lead to eight points. The Cardinals battled back, but free throws from Howard and Echols sealed NMU’s 67-59 win.

Johnson finished with 31 points and eight rebounds. Echols chipped in 12 points. As part of his hot start, Johnson’s GLIAC-best 25 points-per-game efforts lauded him his third GLIAC Player of the Week honors this season.

“We didn’t make great shots like we should have, but we were able to bounce back against Saginaw and hopefully we’ll get two more wins,” Howard said.

NMU currently finds themselves first in the GLIAC-North.
After the team’s next homestand against the Purdue Northwest University (PNW) Pride at 7:30 p.m. Thursday Dec. 6 and the University of Wisconsin-Parkside Rangers at 3 p.m. on Saturday Dec. 8, the team will balance between practices and focusing on their studies for finals week.

With no games scheduled for next week, Sall said the team will adjust and make time for players to get their studies in.
“I know there’s a lot of guys that have projects and want to get stuff done,” Sall said. “For our guys, it feels like a sigh of relief that they can concentrate on their work and just be here.”

Howard acknowledges the coaching staff for keeping the team focused leading up to final exams next week.

“I know we’ll be changing our schedule so we have extra time to study,” Howard said. “It helps that we don’t have a game next week. We’ll have a lot of time just to get into the gym and not worry about preparing for any games.”