Five Wildcats score in double figures in men’s basketball win over Davenport


WINNING WITH OFFENSE—NMU guard Nick Wagner drives to the basket being guarded by Jarrin Randall in the Wildcats’ 91-79 win over Davenport. Northern has now won four of its last five games since the beginning of the new year. Travis Nelson/NW

Travis Nelson, Sports Editor

Shots were falling inside of the Berry Events Center at a rapid rate on Thursday evening, with the Northern Michigan University men’s basketball team’s balanced attack leading to a 91-79 win over Davenport.

Since winter break, the Wildcats (8-8, 4-5 GLIAC) have now won five of six games, and have put up an offensive fireworks show of 89.2 points per game. Five players scored in double figures for NMU, with two others scoring at least seven points.

Justin Brookens led the way for Northern off the bench with 24 points in only 19 minutes, and the point guard shot 6-11 from the field and a perfect 10-10 from the free throw line. Carson Smith finished with 16 points, John Kerr had 14 and a team-high nine rebounds, while Sam Schultz and Brian Parzych each had 11. Nick Wagner finished with eight points, and Max Bjorklund had seven in his first game back in the lineup after missing three games. Northern seems to finally be getting healthy, and garnering minutes playing together is a big reason for the recent offensive production.

“I thought that was our best, complete team game, especially on the offensive end,” NMU coach Matt Majkrzak said. “It seemed like every time we subbed, someone came in and did their job and made some big plays. We’ve been able to practice and we’ve been healthier, still not fully there, still have guys coming off injury, but at least now we’re able to have our main guys in practice for the first stretch all year.” 

“I think the chemistry’s getting there, they’ve always liked each other, so it wasn’t the chemistry in that way, it was just the familiarity with playing with one another. I think every game, every day in practice, we’re getting a little bit better and a little bit closer to having that chemistry the way you want it.”

NMU also had to overcome Davenport guard Jarrin Randall, who lit up the scoreboard with 37 points going 14-20 with seven 3-pointers. In the past two seasons under Majkrzak, NMU couldn’t win a game giving up that many points to one player due to the lack of an offensive punch. Now with the offensive weapons on this year’s team, Majkrzak thinks being able to score helps overcome things that low-scoring squads can’t.

“I think what you can do when you score is you can absorb either bad luck or unbelievable, outstanding individual play,” Majkrzak said. “Randall was not No. 1 on our scouting report, we could’ve made a few adjustments to try to stop him, instead we decided that he was so hot, we couldn’t stop him anyway, so let’s really focus on not letting (Chris) Rollins start and kind of let Randall go. If we had to win the game 61-60, that wouldn’t work. Knowing you can score, it kind of allows you to let one of those guys keep going a little bit.”

From the beginning of the game, Northern’s balance showed. The ‘Cats led 10-9 at the first media timeout and had four different players with baskets. Brookens and Wagner went on an 8-0 run of their own to push NMU to a 17-12 advantage. Schultz had a huge first half for the Wildcats and scored six consecutive points in a two-minute stretch to put the ‘Cats up by seven. 

It looked like the game was getting out of hand for the Panthers once Northern broke out to a 39-25 lead late in the first half, but Randall and Jairus Stevens were making a difference on the offensive end. A late half 3-pointer by Randall got him up to 15 points at halftime and capped off a 12-4 DU run. Despite controlling most of the half, the ‘Cats only led 43-37 at the break.

Stevens cut the lead to four to begin the second half, but NMU answered the bell and pushed the lead back up to double digits with 16 minutes left. Brookens took over the game after this and had 18 points in the second half. NMU kept a 10–15-point lead until under six minutes left when another three from Randall cut the deficit down to 69-63. Responding to one more DU run, it was Kerr this time with an and-one to put the Wildcats up by nine and the game out of reach for good.

“It was a collective team effort, we all played together, played as a team, found the seams that we could see,” Brookens said after scoring a team-high 24 points. “When we have mistakes, we stay together, we don’t break apart. We knew they were going to come back again and strike in the second half and try their hardest, but we maintained the punches and struck back.”

The team’s defense needs to improve because it’ll be hard to rely on 91 points moving forward, Majkrzak said. However, it took some changes by the coaching staff to fix the offense, and Majkrzak was honest about not doing the best job during NMU’s losing skid before winter break. Now on fire and playing to expectations, staying motivated from the early season adversity will be important to keep the winning coming.

“We just needed some time to figure each other out, to figure out timing and to be honest with you, I changed some stuff,” Majkrzak said. “I changed a little bit the way I was coaching, a little bit who we were playing and I think early in the year, I wasn’t doing the best job of putting our players in the best spots and it’s still a work in progress, but I think we’re starting to use some of our guys to their strengths, and they’re starting to use each other to their strengths. It’s definitely trending in a good direction; the key is just to keep that edge because we’re still kind of angry with how the season started and I don’t really want to lose that anger anytime soon.”

The ‘Cats return to action at 3:15 p.m. this afternoon to host Grand Valley State.