MARQUETTE The Northern Michigan University men's basketball team understood the challenge it was facing against No. 23-ranked Lake Superior State University, but faulty execution led the Wildcats to a 77-58 loss on Thursday at the Berry Events Center in Marquette.
The Lakers, who currently lead the GLIAC North Division, improve to 18-3 overall and 10-3 in the GLIAC, while the Wildcats fall to 4-13 and 3-10, respectively.
The 'Cats had a strong start against the Lakers, exchanging the lead six times in the first 10 minutes of play. The teams were tied at 19-19 with 10:36 remaining in the first half before LSSU gradually extended its lead.
Northern?Michigan University’s Dorell Foster (15) attempts to block a shot by Lake Superior State’s Devin Daly on Thursday at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Journal photo by Amy Treloar)
"It's not like they came out with anything surprising," head coach Bill Sall said. "We gave up too many easy looks and too many easy baskets."
The Lakers had a 54.2 field goal percentage and were 81.8 percent from the free throw line.
With a lack of defensive stops, the Wildcats' 43.1 field goal percentage and 42.1 free throw percentage was not nearly enough to knock off LSSU, which was led by seniors Derek Billing and Cameron Metz, who had 24 and 21 points, respectively.
Although the 'Cats anticipated the Lakers' strengths, Sall said there's a difference between seeing them in film and actually executing on the court.
Freshman Marcus Hall led the Wildcats with 16 points, followed by junior Justin Newell with 12. Junior Ethan Blackwell had 10 points of his own, along with nine assists and four rebounds.
"[Blackwell] is continuing to develop as a point guard, and that's not an easy thing to do," Sall said.
"He's starting to see the floor a little better, looking to kick, looking to find action, and those are all huge positives."
Sall said he was especially impressed with Blackwell's ability to find Hall against LSSU, as well as Hall's newfound aggressiveness on the court.
"He's got a long way to go," Sall said of Hall, "but he's proving that he can score at this level and put the biscuit in the basket."
While the 'Cats had just eight turnovers on the night, Sall said the number is somewhat deceiving. NMU had a tendency to play it safe instead of attacking. Sall would have preferred a more aggressive style, he said.
"We're tentative to make a play," Sall said. "You can live a little bit with mistakes of commission, meaning you're trying to do something and it doesn't quite work out."
Although taking risks inherently causes more turnovers, Sall said it's more important to force a reaction from the defense.
Sall said he expects an even bigger challenge against Northwood at 1 p.m. on Saturday at the BEC.
"If we're going to beat Northwood, we're going to have to do a way better job because they're an even more dangerous offensive team than what you saw tonight," Sall said.