In a GLIAC North Division race that saw four teams tied for first place entering this weekend, the Northern Michigan University Men’s Basketball team opened up a five-game home stretch hoping to climb up the standings.
The Wildcats lost the homestand’s first two games to the Lake Superior State University (LSSU) Lakers 86-66, and in a 62-59 heartbreaker to the defending Division II National Champions, Ferris State University (FSU) Bulldogs over the weekend.
“It was a tough weekend without a doubt,” head coach Bill Sall said. “2019 hasn’t been exactly kind to us, but our bond as a team has been stronger than it’s ever been.”
With their recent losing streak now up to six, redshirt-freshman forward/center Troy Summers said the team is using the recent slump to regroup themselves for later in the season.
“None of us are discouraged right now,” Summers said. “I think it just motivates us. The tough ones survive when
adversity hits and you have to overcome it.”
Shots from senior guard Naba Echols and junior center Myles Howard started off Thursday’s game, but the Lakers rallied back to make it 7-4. Junior guard Sam Taylor hit a three to tie the game at 7, but LSSU doubled their lead up to 14-7. The Lakers lead throughout much of the first half until a shot from Echols tied the game at 28 with 4:20 left. An eight-point run eventually helped send LSSU into halftime leading 38-32.
NMU started a second half rally after a Echols three and a shot by senior guard/forward Isaiah Johnson, but LSSU continued to pull away up 44-38. The Lakers extended their lead to 58-41 after a Malek Adams layup before Echols scored on two more shots. The Wildcats got to within 14 points, but LSSU pulled away to an 86-66 victory.
Echols led NMU with 16 points, followed by Johnson with 14 points.
In Saturday’s game, the Bulldogs sped out to a 9-2 lead, but the Wildcats would take a 14-13 lead after Taylor hit back-to-back threes. The game would stay tight throughout the first half, but NMU retook a 26-21 lead thanks to free throws by Johnson and a three by sophomore guard Alec Fruin. Taylor hit his third three of the half to help NMU take a 34-31 halftime lead.
Summers’ layup opened up the second half, but FSU went on an 11-point run to lead 52-41. Another layup by Summers ignited a late rally which later set up a nail-biting finish. An Echols five-point run, followed by a three by Johnson tied the game at 57 with 2:56 remaining. After the Bulldogs scored and called a timeout with 17 seconds remaining, Johnson ran past the defense and scored off an inbound pass to make it 59 all. However, with 1.4 seconds left, FSU’s DeShaun Thrower sank the game-winning three to hand NMU their sixth-straight loss, 62-59.
Echols finished with 19 points, while Johnson and Taylor followed with 11 points each. Howard contributed a career-high 14 rebounds.
“It’s just the way it goes sometimes,” Sall said on the loss to the Bulldogs. “We kind of put ourselves to that position after a period in that [second] half from not being able to make those few shots, but we played well defensively to get to that spot.”
NMU will seek to end their skid this weekend at home against the Davenport University (DU) Panthers on Thursday Jan. 17 at 7:30 p.m. and against the Grand Valley State University (GVSU) Lakers on Saturday Jan. 19 at 3 p.m.
Summers said that DU and GVSU will provide tough competition for the Wildcats.
“Both teams are very good teams in the GLIAC right now,” Summers said. “They’re athletic and tall, it’ll be a good test for us.”
NMU (8-7, 3-5 GLIAC) currently find themselves fifth place in the North trailing first-place LSSU, with Ashland University leading the conference overall at a record of 14-1.