NMU men’s basketball team opens GLIAC season at home tonight

NMU's Naba Echols brings the ball upcourt against Southwest Minnesota State on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Journal photo by Ray Bressette)

By RAY BRESSETTE

Journal Sports Writer

MARQUETTE — After a challenging nonconference schedule, the Northern Michigan University men’s basketball team opens the GLIAC season tonight at home.

With a 2-3 record, NMU head coach Bill Sall likes where his team is at with nothing but league games remaining on the regular-season schedule.

“We’ve made some good strides,” Sall said. “We’re coming off one of the toughest preconference slates in the GLIAC. We competed well overall against some high-end conference teams, and it’s prepared us for GLIAC play.”

The Wildcats return to action after a 71-65 win at home over Minnesota-Duluth on Nov. 22, when they scored the last seven points in the final minute for a comeback win.

The victory was led by Naba Echols, who shot a perfect 6 for 6 on free throws and is fifth in the GLIAC at 90.5 percent from the line.

Senior forward Brett Branstrom leads the ‘Cats on defense with a GLIAC-best 2.4 blocks per game.

But Sall said his overall defense, which is allowing 83.6 points per game, can still improve.

“When you have a young team like us, defense is always going to be a challenge,” Sall said. “These guys were recruited for their offensive skills, and we’re still in the stage of it being a teaching point.

“We’re going to be playing more zone defense in conference play than I would like to keep it simple and improve our team, instead of throwing everything at the guys.”

NMU is still missing senior guard Marcus Hall, who’s battled injuries this month and has yet to see the court.

Freshman guard Marcus Matelski will also be out for roughly two weeks due to illness.

Walsh enters the game with two seniors dangerous on offense, guard Zac Carter, who’s averaging 22.8 ppg, and forward Tyler Fletcher, who’s at 19 ppg.

Sall said that dual threat is front and center on his scouting report.

“Both of their leaders are elite players and proven scorers,” Sall said. “Fletcher is a dominant post player that can still step outside, and Carter is a guard who can kill you with penetration. We have to have eyes where they are at and make sure we shade their way to (prevent) get easy touches.”

But that pair aren’t the only Cavaliers capable of breaking loose. Four of Walsh’s five starters average at least 13 points per game, contributing to the 91 points the team averages.

Fletcher also grabs seven rebounds a game as part of the Cavs’ game average of 40.

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