MARQUETTE -Only eight points in two losses has separated the Northern Michigan University men's basketball team from wins over the top two teams in the GLIAC North Division.
"With us, there are no moral victories. But we see that we can compete," said NMU senior forward TJ Cameron following a 65-59 loss to Wayne State on Saturday at the Berry Events Center in Marquette.
"We're right there. We've just got to find a way to pull those close games out."
Northern Michigan University's T.J. Cameron drives past Wayne State's Gerald Williams-Taylor (5) to put up a shot against WSU's Ian Larkin in the second half of a GLIAC game on Saturdayinside the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Journal photo by Matt Wellens)
The 'Cats dropped a Jan. 10 road game 43-41 against second-place Grand Valley State.
In Saturday's game against the first-place Warriors, NMU held an eight-point, second-half lead before Wayne State charged back.
NMU head coach Doug Lewis was pleased with the effort of his squad, but said it's the play-making down the stretch that's keeping his team from getting to the next level.
"Our kids fought for 40 minutes. We just got beat by a better team," Lewis said. "They made plays.
"We didn't make plays at the end and the name of this game is who makes the plays when it's crunch time. They made the plays."
Behind a stifling 2-3 zone, NMU held the GLIAC's second highest-scoring team to 22 first-half points, as the 'Cats went into the break up 25-22.
The Warriors charged back in the second half and took a 31-30 lead with 15:10 left to play. NMU was able to tie the game four more times, but never recaptured the lead.
Lewis said the late game play of Wayne State point guard Cole Prophet, who the Wildcat mentor used to coach at Central State University, and Ian Larkin was the deciding factor in the game.
"Cole Prophet made plays down the stretch, and he's a senior," Lewis said. "Larkin made plays. He's a senior.
"You look at a kid like (our Stephen) Pelkofer, who missed a free throw, he's only a freshman. With my players getting this experience, the future holds bright."
With a depilated bench due to injuries, NMU slowed the pace down against Wayne State.
The 'Cats threw out a zone defense for much of the game in hopes of avoiding foul trouble.
"We didn't want to leave our guys on an island, especially if Quinten (Calloway) gets in foul trouble because we don't have a backup point guard," Lewis said. "So we wanted to mix it up, play zone and play man, and it worked in the first half."
Lewis would prefer his team play a faster brand of basketball. But with only eight players suited up for the rest of the season, he knows that may not be an option.
"It has to change. We don't have enough depth and I like to play up tempo, pressure defense," Lewis said. "That's something we can't do right now because we don't have enough bodies.
"But by saying that, we've still got to go out and play."
Cameron paced the 'Cats with 15 points. Sophomore forward Kendall Jackson poured in another 15, while tacking on nine rebounds.
Lewis said Jackson's play is going to be key going forward.
"He has been the most improved guy on our team," Lewis said. "He's getting better each practice, each game.
"We need guys who are going to step up, and lately, he's been stepping up. We need his play at this time of the year."