Northern Michigan University mens basketball ready for home opener Friday

Wildcats take on two Minnesota squads at the BEC this weekend

Naba Echols brings the ball up the floor for Northern Michigan University while being defended by Finlandia players Marcus Geralds (15) and Marcus Reddicks during an exhibition game played Oct. 28, 2015, at Negaunee High School. (Journal file photo)

MARQUETTE — When the Northern Michigan University men’s basketball team plays it second home game of the season Saturday afternoon, one of the program’s greats from its past will be celebrated.

First, NMU hosts Minnesota State Moorhead at 8 p.m. Friday before Southwest Minnesota State comes in for a 3 p.m. Saturday contest.

The Wildcats opened the regular season last weekend with a split of two games at the Great Lakes Valley Conference/GLIAC Challenge in Romeoville, Illinois, defeating Wisconsin-Parkside 97-75 before falling to Lewis University 87-83.

Northern head coach Bill Sall said this might be his team’s best start in his four years here.

“Our freshmen are performing really well against good competition,” Sall said. “We’re finally able to play up and down the floor, and give our guys the responsibility of playing with each other instead of looking over to see what to do.

“We have some work to do on defense, but we know what the mainstay will be as we continue to develop this team.”

Sall has been impressed with the early performance of freshman forward Will Carius, who posted a double-double against Lewis in just his second game, recording game highs of 29 points and 13 rebounds.

“(Carius) is an incredibly sound player,” Sall said. “It’s a rarity to be over 6-foot and shoot but also post up. He has the full package on the offensive side.”

The ‘Cats are also getting significant contributions from sophomore guard Naba Echols, their leading scorer last season, who racked up 24 points against Parkside.

The challenge gets tougher this weekend against a Moorhead program that’s just two years removed from the NCAA Division II Elite Eight, with many of their key players still intact and four returning guys who averaged double-digits scoring last season.

“Moorhead has been incredibly successful for three years,” Sall said. “Their senior core has been through just about everything you can at this level, and have averaged 28 wins per year while dominating their conference.

“They are an offensive juggernaut, and when we watch the film we wonder how we’re going to stop them.”

Sall said things ease up slightly on Saturday against Southwest Minnesota, which doesn’t possess the same offensive talent though having a commanding presence in the paint.

“Southwest is a veteran team who capitalizes on their size,” Sall said. “Their team averages 230 pounds compared to our frail players. They’re a raw and physical team that can play with anyone.”

Saturday’s game will be an honor to the former Wildcat great Ted Rose, who is making the trip from Louisville, Kentucky, to attend the game.

Rose is the program’s only three-time MVP and is an NMU Sports Hall of Famer after scoring 1,903 points — fourth all-time for the Wildcats — and nabbing 973 rebounds — good for second all-time — from 1967-70. He also lettered in football.

After years of battling diabetes, Rose is fulfilling his wish of traveling back to Marquette for the NMU basketball experience, and ceremonies will be held honoring him at the BEC’s Wildcat Room in the morning and again after Saturday’s game.

Sall said it’s an honor to have Rose back with Wildcat basketball.

“He was a fan favorite and everyone around town recognizes his name,” Sall said. “Rose was a part of the golden era of NMU basketball, and it will be a unique opportunity for both of us.

“His dream was to come back to Marquette and attend an NMU basketball game and see what it’s about, and it will be a special weekend with some great games for us.”

Basketball alumni and NMU fans are invited to attend and can RSVP by calling the basketball office at 227-2116.

Ray Bressette can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 243. His email address is rbressette@miningjournal.net.

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