Hard-fought honors: Northern Michigan University women’s basketball freshman Lexi Smith, 4 Wildcat men earn All-GLIAC awards

Northern Michigan University’s Lexi Smith takes a jump shot in a GLIAC game against Ashland on Jan. 6 at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Journal photo by Rachel Oakley)

MARQUETTE — Five Northern Michigan University basketball players, including four from the men’s team, earned All-GLIAC honors in awards named by the conference recently.

From the Wildcats women’s team, Lexi Smith was named Freshman of the Year and earned a spot on the league’s Second Team after she led NMU in scoring with 12.6 points per game while grabbing 4.5 rebounds a contest. She scored in double figures 19 times, breaking the 20-point barrier three times.

Her 46.1 percent shooting from the field and 81.7 percent from the free-throw line were each in the top five on the team. Included was a school record for consecutive free throws made in a game when she was 15 for 15 vs. Saginaw Valley State.

She also tied for the team lead with 52 assists.

Smith is Northern’s first women’s Freshman of the Year since the 1994-95 season when Kris Manske won.

Lexi Smith

The women’s team finished 15-14 overall and 11-9 in the GLIAC.

For the men, who were 15-13 and 12-8, juniors Naba Echols and Isaiah Johnson were named to the First Team and sophomore Myles Howard and Sam Taylor made the All-Defensive Team.

Echols and Johnson are the first Wildcat players in a decade named to the GLIAC First Team as NMU made the GLIAC tourney for the first time since 2007, also the most recent time they had a winning season.

Echols, a preseason All-GLIAC pick, tied for team scoring honors at 17.5 ppg and led the Wildcats with 3.4 assists a game. He scored in double figures in all but four games he played, reaching 20 points a dozen times with a high of 30 vs. Ferris State. He also averaged 27.2 ppg in the final four games, reaching the 1,000-point career plateau in the final regular-season game vs. Wayne State.

He tied for the team lead with his 83 percent success rate at the free-throw line and was second on the team in 3-point shooting while making 47 percent overall from the field.

Northern Michigan University's Naba Echols, center left, takes an off-balance layup as Michigan Tech's Kyle Monroe, right, defends during their GLIAC men's basketball game played in Houghton on Jan. 28. (Houghton Daily Mining Gazette photo by David Archambeau)

Johnson matched Echols by also averaging 17.5 ppg while leading Northern with 5.5 rebounds a game. He was second on the team in blocked shots and steals while tying for best 3-point shooting at a 41 percent clip.

The Wildcats’ only player to start every game, he was also third on the team in assists. At Wayne State in mid-January, he scored a career-high 30 points as he scored in double figures 25 times, nine times reaching at least 20 points.

Howard led Northern with 1.8 blocked shots a game, finishing with 49 total, both also good for second in the GLIAC, as he affected many other opponents’ opportunities. He had five blocks vs. the College of St. Rose and four against SVSU, Ferris State and Lake Superior State. Against LSSU, he blocked shots on three consecutive Laker possessions that turned into seven NMU points.

Taylor led Northern with 40 steals, an average of 1.4 per game while typically guarding the opponents’ point guard. He had season highs of four steals vs. Lewis and Michigan Tech and had a steal in 22 games.

Information compiled by Journal Sports Editor Steve Brownlee. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.

Northern Michigan University’s Naba Echols searches for a pass as Saginaw Valley State’s Fred John Jr. blocks on Dec. 2 at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Journal photo by Rachel Oakley)

Naba Echols

Northern Michigan University’s Isaiah Johnson looks for a shot with Michigan Tech’s Kyle Monroe on defense on Dec. 17 at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Journal photo by Corey Kelly)

Northern Michigan University’s Isaiah Johnson, center, puts up a layup around a pair of Tiffin defenders in their GLIAC game played Jan. 4 at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Journal file photo by Rachel Oakley)

Isaiah Johnson