Men’s Basketball looks to end its offensive struggles against Lake Superior State

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CONTRAST OF STYLES—The NMU Men’s Basketball team welcomes in Lake State this weekend, an opponent is almost completely opposite of the Wildcats. NMU plays tough defense and has struggled offensively, where the Lakers score a lot of points but give up a lot as well. Travis Nelson/NW

Travis Nelson

In the last two games, the NMU Men’s Basketball team has given up 64 points per game. That’s near-perfect defense at the collegiate level, however, the Wildcats suffered losses in both games at Ferris State and on its home floor against Michigan Tech. 

The ‘Cats (3-4) have figured out on the defensive end, but offensively, there’s a lot to be desired. NMU averaged 48.5 points per game in those two games against Ferris and MTU, and haven’t complimented the strong defense at all. However, with that being said, the Wildcats are looking to get back on track with Lake Superior State coming to town this weekend on Saturday, Jan. 30 and Sunday, Jan. 31.

NMU’s offense has produced this season, they scored 76 points in its season-opening overtime win over Parkside, and 73 points in a loss to Saginaw Valley State. Fortunately for the ‘Cats, LSSU is tied with Davenport and Purdue Northwest for the last place in the GLIAC with the most points given up per game (76.3). This could be the remedy that NMU was looking for to steady the ship of its last-placed offense, but that stats don’t tell the full story about the Lakers’ defense, Wildcats Head Coach Matt Majkrzak said in his Zoom postgame press conference after the Michigan Tech game.

“I sure hope [this series gets the offense going]; watching [LSSU] because they just played Tech, I think they’re very good defensively. I think they’ve had a little bit of bad luck with teams shooting really well against them, I’m hoping that that kind of bad luck continues and we can take advantage of some good fortune and knock down a bunch of shots,” Majkrzak said. “So I’m hoping that trend continues, I don’t know if it’s as much them being bad defensively as they’ve played some really good competition.”

The Lakers (3-4) come off of a 80-69 road win over Ferris State on Tuesday, and two losses beforehand at home to Michigan Tech on Friday, Jan. 22 and Saturday, Jan. 23. In preparation for playing Michigan Tech, Majkrzak was able to watch the Huskies-Lakers film from last weekend, and was able to plan ahead for Lake State at the same time. What stood out to him was how hard the Lakers’ play.

“They’re really, really tough. They’re really, really well-coached. But I would say more than anything they just play hard, they’re probably the hardest playing team in the league night in and night out,” Majkrzak said. “They have really, really good shooting, they’re not maybe quite as big as some of the other teams but you just know that you’re going to get an absolutely incredible effort out of them.”

Offensively, the Lakers lead the league, averaging 76.6 points per game. In contrast, these two teams are completely different but have the same 3-4 record. NMU handled its first big defensive test this week against Michigan Tech, only giving up 61 points. If there’s a way to bottle that defensive effort up against the Lakers, the Wildcats should find out how.

“I think we’ve been lights out defensively the past four games minus a little stretch against Ferris in the second game. But even that was more our offense turning it over and stuff. So our defense has been playing well, it keeps improving, I think our guys are very tough and that shows,” Majkrzak said. “We’re going to need all that and more against Lake State, offensively, I think Tech and them right now are probably the two best offenses heading into this in my opinion. We did a great job on Tech [Tuesday night] but it’s going to take another giant effort against Lake State.”

NMU is not only trying to figure out the offense, but they’ve faced fatigue down the stretch of games. The conditioning level is now at the level it needs to be at, Majkrzak said, and it’s the reason that the team’s growth and defense have been constantly improving. But overall, the offense starting to click could help in that department as well.

“I think our team’s still battling through a little bit of fatigue towards the end of the games. I thought especially the last five minutes [against Michigan Tech], there were things that were happening out there where our guys weren’t as quick out as had been in the first half,” Majkrzak said. “So I definitely think that’s part of it, and I think the hard part too is when the ball isn’t going in, sometimes you can have some energy dips. Now, I didn’t really see us ever let up, but I think we just got a little bit tired as it wore on.”

The Wildcats are hoping junior guard Max Bjorklund will return to the lineup after missing the past three games due to injury, Majkrzak said. Bjorklund averages 10.8 points per game, and right now, the ‘Cats need it. Through the mini losing streak, the Wildcats are sticking together and are all in on fixing their issues, Majkrzak added.

“I would say our team is doing a great job of sticking together, obviously I don’t think it’s going to be positive after you lose, but I don’t think there’s any blaming going on at all. I think everyone’s staying really close-knit, really tight. Everyone’s pretty all-in on working to fix this together; I don’t think anyone feels like right now it’s anyone’s not playing as well as they’re capable of. So I think there’s a lot of people that want to improve individually, and know that if we can improve individually and as a team, that’ll help everyone moving forward,” Majkrzak said.

This weekend, both team’s weaknesses are matched by the other’s weaknesses, and both teams’ strengths are matched by the other’s strengths. Something has to give, and something will give at NMU’s PEIF Gymnasium on Saturday, Jan. 30 and Sunday, Jan. 31. Tip-off for both games is slated for 1 p.m.