A lot to remember about this Men’s Basketball season despite tough ending


FINISHING STRONG—NMU guard Max Bjorklund chases after a loose ball during the Wildcats’ 91-79 win over Davenport on January 20. NMU came up short against Davenport in the GLIAC Tournament title game, but had won nine games in a row heading into that game. The ‘Cats reached the GLIAC finals for the first time since 2000, and that should be remembered. Travis Nelson/NW

Travis Nelson, Sports Editor

The Northern Michigan University Men’s Basketball team had a rollercoaster season that resulted in arguably the program’s best season since 2000. The Wildcats won nine games in a row and were in the GLIAC title game for the first time in 22 years, but the Davenport Panthers jumped out to a big lead and never looked back to eliminate NMU.

Davenport lit up the nets in Houghton against the ‘Cats, and shot 60% from the field and made 12 3-pointers in the 100-67 win. In the third season under coach Matt Majkrzak, this was the first time in his tenure that Northern has lost to the Panthers, including two wins earlier in the season. After losing twice to Michigan Tech and finally beating the Huskies on their homecourt in the semis, the ‘Cats just ran out of gas with all that had gone on this season. 

The Wildcats had significant injuries to two starters, forward Sam Schultz and guard Justin Brookens, and were short-handed. They overcame Michigan Tech without them, but it was a difficult situation to be thrusted into with two games in two days without much rest for a team that wasn’t healthy.

“I thought they really came out hungry, played their best basketball, and we didn’t play ours,” Majkrzak said about Davenport’s incredible shooting performance. “Once they got hot, they went from hot to full nuclear mode where they were making everything. Hats off to them, that’s how you go win a championship and they deserved it.”

Despite the season not ending how the Wildcats would’ve liked, without a GLIAC championship, there is a lot to remember about this team. More often than not in these past 22 years in between GLIAC title game appearances, the program hasn’t been very good. NMU started the season 9-11, and the season outlook wasn’t very good at that point. The team turned it around winning nine of 10 to close, and did it all through a lot of adversity. 

There were chemistry issues at the beginning of the season with injuries and a lot of new players trying to play together for the first time. With all of the things that happened to NMU this season, 99% of teams would fall apart and give in, Majkrzak said.

“It was probably the best season since 1999-00,” Majkrzak said. “It’s really cool, it’s something that I don’t want to take for granted, and I think our kids need to know that and to feel proud of all they accomplished this year. That end stretch where we go 9-1 in the last 10 games, and we go to the finals, it seemed like that year of persevering and staying together and trying to get better, I thought it all paid off.”

“You don’t always get rewarded for doing the right things, and would have I liked to see them get a little more reward of making the NCAA Tournament? Absolutely, but at the same time, it’s nice to see all of their hard work pay off and do some special things that haven’t been done at Northern in awhile.”

A huge reason that the Wildcats were able to go on the run that they did was because of guard Max Bjorklund. Bjorklund averaged 20.2 points per game in the final 10 games, and scored 46 points against Ferris State with 40 second-half points to close out the regular season. In the GLIAC semis to beat Michigan Tech, Bjorklund paced the Wildcats with 35 points. With some special performances to close out the season, Majkrzak had to go back to his Division I days as an assistant to think of a similar run by an individual player.

“Max, the last 10 games of the year, was the best player in the conference,” Majkrzak said. “I don’t feel bad saying that, he just was. What he did over the course of our run is some of the most special basketball that I’ve ever seen. The only thing I’ve ever been around that’s close to that is the stuff that Keifer Sykes was doing at Green Bay [Division I UWGB] when I was there, and he’s playing in the NBA right now.”

For comparison, Sykes was a two-time Horizon League Player of the Year, and averaged 19.5 points per game over his final two seasons in college, and is now on the Indiana Pacers after playing professionally overseas. That’s high praise for Bjorklund, but it’s warranted given some of the games he was able to take over down the stretch. 

“It really came down to my coaches and my teammates trusting me,” Bjorklund said. “I tried to be a leader on this team, they have all seen me make a lot of those shots in practice. When I was given the greenlight in those games, I was able to take advantage, be confident in myself, and luckily a few of those shots went in.”

The Wildcats will lose guard Nick Wagner and forward John Kerr, but Majkrzak is hopeful and optimistic that every other player in the rotation will be back. With a runner-up GLIAC finish will come high expectations, but this year proved that the Wildcats can hang with the conference’s best.

“It was an incredible run, we really clicked together and I was actually talking to coach [Majkrzak] pretty recently, and we were talking about how a lot of those games, we actually didn’t even play very well,” Bjorklund said. “We found a way to win when we weren’t shooting great, and it made us really have confidence that we were a good team. When we were shooting well, we were beating the best teams in the league.”