MARQUETTE - The experience and composure of the Northern Michigan University women's basketball team paid off against its first GLIAC opponent in a 76-74 win on Thursday over Walsh University at the Berry Events Center in Marquette.
With the win, the Wildcats improve to 4-1 overall and 1-0 in league play, while the Cavaliers drop to 3-1 overall and 0-1 in the GLIAC.
"We were trying as hard as we could out there," NMU head coach Troy Mattson said. "Fortunately we played good enough to hang in there all night and finally steal it at the end."
Northern Michigan University junior Alyssa Colla looks and waits for a lane to open up during the first half against Walsh University in GLIAC play on Thursday at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. Colla scored 23 points and hit two free throws with 1.6 seconds to play to give NMU the victory. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
Northern Michigan University junior Lauren Gruber, right, battles with Walsh University freshman Jalynn Graham, left, during the first half Thursday at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
The 'Cats trailed the Cavaliers most of the game, but never by more than nine points. In the last 10 minutes of play alone, the lead changed seven times before a layup and free throw sequence by junior guard Alyssa Colla tied it up at 74-74 with 48 seconds remaining.
A Walsh turnover put the ball back in the Wildcats' possession while they ran down the clock. Colla made a drive for the basket and, with 1.6 second remaining, was fouled for the bonus shots that put NMU on top.
"Obviously Alyssa's our go-to person and she got it done," Mattson said. "I couldn't be more proud of our girls. We hung in there through some tough times trying to stop them."
Colla led the Wildcats in points with 23 on the night, followed by junior forward Abbey DeBruin with 16 and senior forward Annie Rubendunst with 15.
Mattson said having so many upperclassmen with experience helped the team maintain composure through the final minutes of play.
"We've been in those situations for the last couple years together," Mattson said. "They understand what it takes."
Facing the difficulty of the GLIAC, Colla said the 'Cats can expect to be up or down several points at halftime, but the players will need to stick together in order to find success.
"All of the games we play this year are going to be super close," Colla said. "We just have to keep grinding out and finish the game like we did today."
The 'Cats proved their rebounding dominance with 40 compared to the Cavaliers' 28. DeBruin and Rubendunst tallied eight rebounds apiece to lead NMU.
"There are so many girls on our team who can rebound," Rubendunst said. "It just depends on the day."
Despite the success in rebounding, Mattson said he didn't think the Wildcats had a real edge over Walsh besides getting to the free throw line.
"I was so impressed with Walsh," head coach Troy Mattson said. "They're going to give lots of teams lots of problems just like they gave us tonight."
Jalynn Graham and Tara Gallupe put up 19 points each for the Cavaliers, and Whitney Dabbelt led her team with eight rebounds.
Mattson said Northern fought the entire game to slow Walsh's momentum, but the Cavaliers refused to quit.
"We were struggling doing it, but we kept running our offense properly and getting the ball to the right people," Mattson said.
NMU remains at home to play Malone University at 1 p.m. on Saturday. The Pioneers fell to their first GLIAC opponent, Michigan Tech, on Thursday 53-48 in Houghton.
Delaney Lovett can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.