Men’s basketball fights until final buzzer in 64-62 defeat to Michigan Tech


RIVALRY BATTLE—NMU guard Justin Brookens surveys the Michigan Tech defense during the 64-62 rivalry loss on Monday night. Travis Nelson/NW

Travis Nelson, Sports Editor

The fans at the Berry Events Center were treated to a back-and-forth rivalry barnburner on Monday evening, where the Northern Michigan University men’s basketball team hosted Michigan Tech. It was the Huskies who survived with a 64-62 victory after NMU guard Carson Smith stole the inbounds pass with less than one second remaining, and his contested lay-up was blocked to end the game in dramatic fashion.

NMU (9-10, 5-7 GLIAC) has now developed a reputation of not giving up until the final horn sounds. This is the Wildcats’ fourth loss of the season by two or less points, including a 77-76 loss to Tech (13-5, 9-3 GLIAC) on Dec. 6. 

Trailing 64-59 with five seconds left, ‘Cats guard Max Bjorklund sprinted downcourt and nailed a contested 3-pointer to cut it to two with 1.2 seconds remaining. Smith was in position to pull off an incredible play after stealing forward Trent Bell’s inbounds pass, but both Bell and guard Adam Hobson were there to prevent a made bucket.

“Great battle from our kids, one thing that you can’t take away is that I’ve never seen a team just keep battling to the very end more than we have this year,” NMU coach Matt Majkrzak said. “(We’ve had) some tough losses at the end, but you look at the score and go, ‘oh, they lost by one or two’, but if you actually watch the game, they were six, seven-point losses where we fought and almost pulled out a miracle again. I’m not shocked that Carson made that play, he’s made a lot of big plays for us and he was close to making an all-timer.”

Michigan Tech’s 61-55 lead with under two minutes left was the largest lead of the game for either team, and NMU held a 36-31 lead at one point early in the second half. Neither team could gain clear separation for almost two hours until the clock read 0:00. 

NMU got off to a slow start in the game, but Smith and forward John Kerr helped their team get back on track with consecutive and-ones to tie the game at 8-8. The Wildcats got a break with Huskies star forward Owen White picking up his second foul with 11:37 left in the half, but couldn’t pull away. The game remained close and low-scoring, and the NMU tandem of guard Justin Brookens and forward Ben Wolf gave the Wildcats a 16-15 with success in the pick-and-roll game.

Michigan Tech’s offense started coming around despite White sitting on the bench, and took a 23-19 advantage after a jumper from guard Carter Johnston. Kerr got to the free throw line two possessions in a row for the ‘Cats in response, and made all four of them to tie the game once more. Tied up at 25-25, Brookens drove the rack and his crafty lay-up gave NMU a two-point lead at the break.

Tied up at 30, after a questionable shooting foul call on NMU guard Nick Wagner, Majkrzak received a technical foul. The duo of Johnston and guard Eric Carl only made one of the four free throws, giving Tech a one-point lead. This moment seemed to spark the Wildcats, giving them their largest lead of the game with 15 minutes left, after four straight points from forward Sam Schultz and free throws from guard Justin Kuehl.

The game continued going back-and-forth, this time it was a duel between Kerr and Carl to keep it tied at 44-44. Guard Brian Parzych hit a big 3 to put NMU in front, but White responded on the other end with one of his own with eight minutes left.

Bell and White scored consecutive baskets for Tech to make it 53-49, but Bjorklund hit two tough lay-up tries in a row to even the score up another time. The first time it felt like there could be a winner was when Johnston hit a 3-pointer and White made free throws to put Tech up five with 2:32 left. Wolf made a jump hook on the other end, but Hobson came back down and drilled another 3 for the Huskies. 

Northern had multiple possessions with the ball trailing 61-57, but both Smith and Bjorklund couldn’t connect. Enter the final sequence after Tech held the 64-59 lead, and you’ve got an epic finish to an epic rivalry game.

“I think going into it, I thought that it was going to come down to both teams were going to get some semi-contested 3’s because I think both defenses do a nice job of taking away the 3, and both offenses want some 3’s,” Majkrzak said. “It was going to come down to some make and miss, and I think it did. Credit to their guys, they stepped up and made big time shots, big time plays.”

Both teams had plenty of balance in their scoring attacks. White and Hobson led Tech with 13, Carl and Johnston both had 12 and Bell had eight. Kerr and Bjorklund had 11 each to lead NMU, Smith and Brookens both had nine and Schultz had eight.