Wildcat men sink the Lakers

Redshirt-freshman+forward%2Fcenter+Troy+Summers+rises+up+for+a+shot+at+against+the+Lake+Superior+State+Lakers+earlier+this+season.+Summers+scored+14+points+and+collected+four+rebounds+in+the+game.%0A%0APhoto+courtesy+of+NMU+Athletics%0A

Redshirt-freshman forward/center Troy Summers rises up for a shot at against the Lake Superior State Lakers earlier this season. Summers scored 14 points and collected four rebounds in the game.
Photo courtesy of NMU Athletics

Nate Bellville

For a second consecutive season, the Northern Michigan University Men’s Basketball team clinched a berth in the GLIAC Quarterfinal Tournament as they fought to a road split last weekend, losing to the Ferris State University (FSU) Bulldogs 78-67 and escaping with a 73-68 win over the Lake Superior State University (LSSU) Lakers.

“We got the playoff berth and it’s nice, but this is a little different than last year when we’re making it in for the first time in 10 years,” head coach Bill Sall said. “This year we have higher goals and expectations. We have a good chance to get home court and to win our side of the conference.”

Junior guard Marcus Matelski said the win at LSSU summed up how far their two-season turnaround progressed.

“It’s show[s] where the program’s come from,” Matelski said. “We weren’t very good in previous years. But in the last couple years, everyone has bought in and we’ve turned it around.”

Last Thursday, both FSU and NMU started slow, but the Bulldogs recovered to take a 13-3 lead. After a shot by senior guard/forward Isaiah Johnson, senior guard Naba Echols sank back-to-back 3-point shots to tie the game at 16 with seven minutes remaining. The Wildcats rallied back and jumped ahead to a 19-18 lead, but the Bulldogs put up a six-point run to send them to halftime up 33-30.

FSU kept up its tempo in the second half as it extended its lead to 45-34. An Echols three and a shot by junior guard Sam Taylor brought NMU to within six, but the Bulldogs answered with a five-point run to make it 53-42. The Wildcats rallied back to within four after two free throws by Johnson, but FSU’s four free throws at the end of the game sealed its 78-67 win.

Six threes helped Echols lead NMU scorers with 26 points, while Johnson recorded 15 points.

Last Saturday, Echols scored five straight points to give NMU a 13-7 lead to start off the game. The Lakers took a 22-21 lead, but an Echols’ three helped NMU retake the top at 24-22. The game stayed tight throughout the first half until free throws from junior center Myles Howard and sophomore guard Alec Fruin sent the game to halftime tied at 37.

The Lakers would begin the second half at 42-41, but an Echols free throw and a Howard dunk would tie the game at 44. Both teams traded leads throughout the second half until a block and shot by Howard would give the Wildcats a 69-66 lead with 2:26 left. Free throws by Johnson and redshirt-freshman Troy Summers iced NMU’s 73-68 win, its first win against LSSU since the 2012-13 season.

Johnson finished with a game high of 26 points, shooting a perfect 8-for-8 from the free-throw line. Following up for NMU was Echols with 22 points. Echols’ weekend performances lauded him GLIAC Player of the Week honors for the third time this season.

Despite the offense starring against the Lakers, Sall said the team’s defense played with promise in the win.

“We had a great defensive game against Lake State,” Sall said. “Especially with them being the aggressors in rebounding compared to the first game, we held them to zero second-chance points and to keep them at zero is pretty good.”

NMU seeks to earn a home playoff matchup this weekend as they visit the Grand Valley State University (GVSU) Lakers at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 21, from Allendale, and then against the No. 15 ranked Davenport University (DU) Panthers at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 23, in Caledonia.

“We’re going into two really tough places to play, especially with Davenport earning their home playoff game and potentially winning the conference outright [already],” Matelski said. “It’s going to be a big weekend for us, but we’re preparing everyday and getting ready for it.”

The ’Cats (15-9, 10-7 GLIAC) currently sit tied for fourth place in the conference overall, and are tied for second place in the North Division, both with University of Wisconsin-Parkside.

Last month at home, NMU came out on top on both GVSU and DU.

With three games remaining, the Wildcats control their own destiny in the pursuit to host a home playoff matchup. In an eight-team bracket, the top four teams host a matchup. The Wildcats hold the tie-breaker for fourth place and currently trail FSU by one game in the standings.