Northern Michigan University Wildcats basketball teams back on the road after tough losses to Ashland

Northern Michigan University’s Isaiah Johnson works toward the hoop as Tiffin’s Austin Schaub, left, defends Thursday night at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Journal photo by Rachel Oakley)

MARQUETTE — The Northern Michigan University basketball teams are trying to get back on the right track.

Both the NMU men and women were dealt tough losses by Ashland on Saturday. The men’s one-point loss to the Eagles might seem like a difficult defeat to overcome, but assistant coach Charles Belt said Tuesday that wasn’t the case. He said part of the loss might have been due to the lack of star point guard Naba Echols, who didn’t play due to an injury.

“I feel that in the course of the game, that was GLIAC basketball,” he said. “They were physical and we were physical. I thought down the stretch that there were a couple of things that we didn’t execute. We had a few guys that were in positions that were a little different than normal during games, but that’s what happens when you don’t have your floor general.

“You have a few other people with the ball in their hands late having to make decisions that they normally don’t have to make. But I thought, overall, we competed and we fought.”

For the women, Saturday also came with a loss, but in a much different way. The Wildcats had to face an Ashland team that is the defending Division II national champion and entered the game on a 51-game winning streak. Not surprisingly, the Eagles won by 40 points and set a D-2 national record with 52 consecutive wins.

Northern head women’s coach Troy Mattson knew that the odds were against his team going in, but was pleased with how the Wildcats kept up with the high-powered Eagles in the first half.

“Honestly, I thought we played well in the first half from these standpoints,” he said. “Lexi (Smith) and Sydney (Dillinger) did an incredible job against their press. Their press can be just devastating at times. I thought they did an incredible job getting the ball up the court and getting us into our offense.

“Defensively, we only had one day to prepare for them. So we missed a couple of little things, but other than that, we played pretty good defensively in the first half.”

The Northern women have a great opportunity ahead of them Thursday, taking on a winless Lake Superior State team that has lost all of its games by double digits.

“Even though we’re on the road for five games, we put ourselves in a situation where we think that if we were to play great or good-to-great, there’s not a team on our schedule that we can’t beat,” Mattson said.

The NMU men have a much harder draw as LSSU is tied with the Wildcats and Ferris State for first place in the GLIAC North. Yet Belt says the Wildcat men are confident and looking forward to proving themselves once again.

“It’s a tall task to play four (on the road) and then your fifth being your rival (Michigan Tech), but that’s on us (the coaches) to look in terms of the grand scheme,” he said. “For (the players), they just need to know that when we get on that bus Thursday, we go give them a war.”

The five-game road trip spans the rest of this month, beginning with LSSU at 5:30 p.m. Thursday for the women and 7:30 p.m. for the men, then moving to Ferris State at 1 p.m. Saturday for the men and 3 p.m. for the women.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is