Men’s hoopers fight for playoffs

Senior+guard+Naba+Echols+made+an+impactful+final+impression+on+his+last+days+on+the+Berry+Events+Center+court.+Echols+recorded+over+20+points+in+his+final+two+games+as+the+%E2%80%99Cats+won+both+matchups.+%0APhoto+courtesy+of+NMU+Athletics%0A

Senior guard Naba Echols made an impactful final impression on his last days on the Berry Events Center court. Echols recorded over 20 points in his final two games as the ’Cats won both matchups.
Photo courtesy of NMU Athletics

Nate Bellville

The Northern Michigan University Men’s Basketball team celebrated Senior Weekend with a homestand sweep and earned their 10th home win of the season as they topped the Saginaw Valley State University Cardinals (SVSU) 87-73 and the Northwood University Timberwolves (NU) 72-60.

“We’re defending really well, it was also good to see a few shots go in,” head coach Bill Sall said. “I feel we’re still trying to find consistency, but it’s great to see our seniors and few other players putting in good contributions for us.”

Sophomore guard Alec Fruin said last weekend’s wins were big for the team, especially with their playoff push coming to play.

“They were two big wins, especially with how the [GLIAC] conference is right now,” Fruin said. “After the [first] Ferris game, we just turned everything around, played a whole lot better and we’re continuing on that path.”

Hot shooting fueled SVSU up on a 12-7 run last Thursday. A dunk from junior center Myles Howard and threes from senior guard/forward Isaiah Johnson ignited NMU to take a 17-16 lead. The game would stay close, with NMU reclaiming a 30-29 lead after an “and-one” play from redshirt-freshman Troy Summers and a pair of Howard free throws. Senior guard Naba Echols’s late back-to-back threes sent NMU to halftime up 38-29.

Echols’s nine points and Howard’s second dunk of the night highlighted NMU’s strong second half start. An “and-one” play from Sebastiano Lamanato helped trim SVSU’s deficit to six, but two threes from Fruin extended NMU’s lead to 12. Despite a technical foul assessed to the team, the Cardinals didn’t back down as they rallied back to within five. The Wildcats would pull away late to win 87-73 after free throws from Echols and Johnson iced the game.

Four players eclipsed double figures as Johnson led NMU with 23 points with Echols following up with 22.

On Senior Day against NU, Echols, Johnson and senior center Max Prendergast all scored in the opening minutes, but NU raced out to 18-14 lead. At 9:39 remaining in the first half, NMU took a 19-18 lead after a three from junior guard Marcus Matelski. Both teams would swap leads until one minute remaining when Johnson’s four point run and an Echols’s buzzer-beating three propelled NMU to a 38-28 lead heading into halftime.

The Timberwolves started the second half strong as a David Jelenik layup made it 40-36 NMU. And-ones from Johnson and Fruin along with Matelski’s second three extended NMU’s lead to 56-45. Shots from senior guard Kenton Mack and junior guard Sam Taylor made it 60-49, but NU raced back to within two. However, the Wildcats regrouped and would win 72-60 after a Johnson layup and two free throws each from Taylor and Summers.

Echols led NMU scorers with 25 points, and Johnson notched his first double-double this year, accounting for 18 points and 10 rebounds.

“Any team that you’re gonna have, you need your big players to play,” Sall said. “We’re going to have good contributions and that is team basketball. But big players in big moments have to step up.”

NMU embarks on their season-ending road stint, starting at the Ferris State University (FSU) Bulldogs at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 14, in Big Rapids, and then at the Lake Superior State University (LSSU) Lakers at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 16, in Sault Ste. Marie.

The ’Cats (14-8, 9-6 GLIAC) currently sit in a three-way tie for fourth place overall, while also in another three-way tie for second place in the GLIAC North Division, both with FSU and LSSU.

Fruin said that he’s still unpleasant about the last losses against both teams, but believes there’ll be a revenge factor in the next games, especially with conference implications.

“We still have feelings from that loss at the buzzer [against FSU] and we didn’t play well at all against LSSU, so we hope to get big wins there,” Fruin said. “As long as we handle our business and get two wins, we’ll be sitting fine in the standings.”