Fresh era debuts with win

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MAJKRZAK’S FIRST WIN—NMU might not have won both games this past weekend, but its upset win against Lewis on Saturday, Nov. 9 was Head Coach Matt Majkrzak’s first win at NMU. Photo courtesy of NMU Athletics

Travis Nelson

It didn’t take long for NMU Men’s Basketball Head Coach Matt Majkrzak to get his first win, as in the first game of the season, the Wildcats pulled off a 76-63 upset win over the nationally ranked Lewis University (LU)   Flyers.

Three days after the big win on Saturday, Nov. 9, Majkrzak’s voice was still feeling the effects of the post-game celebration.

“It was awesome, my voice is still a little shaky from all the yelling and excitement during both games in different ways. It was a really fun locker room afterwards,” Majkrzak said. “I think we talked about how much they bought in, and it was nice to see them be rewarded right away.”

After a close and defensive first half that saw LU hold a 24-23 halftime lead, the Wildcats exploded for 53 points in the second half. Sophomore Alex Fruin led NMU in scoring in his first game at point guard with 17 points, including three 3-point field goals. Four more Wildcats scored in double digits, including senior Sam Taylor with 10 points and five assists. Sophomore Dolapo Olayinka chipped in with 13 points. Senior Marcus Matelski had 12 with four 3-pointers, and freshman Ben Wolf had 10. GLIAC North Division All-Preseason selection senior Myles Howard also contributed with nine points and led the team with six        rebounds.

The Wildcats’ hot shooting and tough defense led them to victory over LU, including shooting an impressive 47% from the 3-point line. However, as good as things went for the ‘Cats in the first game, its second game was a different story.

On Sunday, Nov. 10 in the second game of the weekend for the Wildcats, it faced off against GLIAC/GLVC Challenge host McKendree University (MU). Majkrzak’s team wasn’t as sharp as the day before, and NMU fell handily 69-46. The Wildcats fell behind early and ultimately trailed 31-22 at the half. The Bearcats didn’t look back, extending its lead up to the 23-point final score. Taylor led Northern in scoring with 11 points, averaging 10.5 points per game over the weekend. Fruin pitched in with nine points, and freshman Xzavier Jones got involved with eight points. Three MU players scored in double digits, including guards Oliver Stephen and Logan Kohrmann and forward Aleksa Popovic.

Majkrzak said his first impression from watching the film was that his team came out flat in the second game, and that it didn’t show any energy or effort.

“I think the big thing for us was concern about after the first game, with being the first year, getting a lot of praise,” Majkrzak said. “You get all these texts and calls about how good you did and how great it’s going to be, and how we’re moving the ball and we’re shooting threes now like it was some magic formula to basketball that we haven’t seen before. I knew it wasn’t.”

Majkrzak added that he didn’t know how much it was the team buying into that false confidence, or if it was that they played a good team and didn’t play well. The Wildcats don’t have much time to recover, however, as they travel to Duluth on Friday, Nov. 15 for a road contest against the University of Minnesota-Duluth (UMD) Bulldogs. Majkrzak talked about his team’s challenge in facing a team of this caliber.

“I think Duluth is a near national title contender, I’m very familiar with that conference, having been in it for four years before coming here,” Majkrzak said. “I’m probably more familiar with those teams than I am with some of the teams that we’re going to play night in and night out, but I think Duluth has a chance to be really, really special this year.”

The Bulldogs have a transfer from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, starting center Alex Illikainen, who is averaging 17 points per game through two games this season. UMD also returns senior forward Brandon Myer, who was First Team All-NSIC (Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference), and is averaging 23 points per game early in the season.

“Their two inside guys (Illikainen and Myer) are as good as any two we’ll see all year,” Majkrzak said. “I think that team is special and it’ll be a great chance for us to see kind of where we stack up against a team at that level.”

NMU will then play its second back-to-back of the season on Saturday, Nov. 16, when they take on the Southwest Minnesota State University (SMSU) Mustangs in Duluth.

“Southwest Minnesota is always one of the best-coached teams in that league, and they’re younger, they remind me of us a little bit in that they have some players back,” Majkrzak said. “They lost the player of the year last year, so they’re very similar to us where they have a lot of experience. I think they’re tough, I think they’re good defensively. The scoring’s going to be an issue for both teams, so it should be kind of an interesting one on Saturday.”

Tip-off is at 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 15 between the Wildcats and Bulldogs in the first game of the weekend.