Northern Michigan University men, women basketball teams look for offense to return to winning ways

Northern Michigan University's Amber Huebner, center, dribbles around Purdue Northwest defender Shae Rhonehouse during their GLIAC women's basketball game played Dec. 6 at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Photo courtesy Cory Genovese/NMU Athletics)

MARQUETTE — After spending the last few weeks away from the Berry Events Center, the Northern Michigan University men’s and women’s basketball teams are back for some much-needed home-court inspiration.

That is especially the case for the Northern men, who after getting off to a blazing start, have lost four in a row that includes two defeats at the Bellarmine Tournament.

The Wildcat men (8-5, 3-3 GLIAC) have been plagued by poor shooting from beyond the arc and head coach Bill Sall says that needs to change if NMU is hoping to contend for the GLIAC North title.

“Here’s the tough thing,” he said. “Back from break, the Wayne State game was a really disappointing game. That was the first game that we played where, overall, the team grade of how we played and how we competed, was below average and that was really disappointing. We did not seize the moment and it cost us.

“Here’s the good thing, after a lot of talking and a lot of watching, I thought we played very well on Saturday (against No. 6 Ashland) and really had tremendous chances to win the game, but that’s also a good team. They’re ranked in the country for a reason.

“So it was one of those where it’s great to see us make progress, but it’s soured by that we didn’t win.”

In regard to the poor 3-point shooting, Sall said his team isn’t taking bad shots, they’re just not going in like they were before the break. He also thinks that the upcoming homestand against Lake Superior State and Ferris State will be beneficial even though both teams will be difficult opponents.

“We’ve had a lot of great looks,” he said. “Shots that we have made in the past, a lot of them unguarded, that’s where we were really strong.”

On the women’s side, things are a little more mixed. The Wildcats (10-4, 5-1) earned a split last weekend, beating Wayne State but falling to No. 7 Ashland. NMU has done well on the defensive end as it leads the conference in points per game allowed (52.4), but is struggling to score points, averaging only 61.2 a game.

Northern women’s head coach Troy Mattson said the lack of offense is a concern and that his team needs to be able to finish plays.

“We’ve left some points on the table since the last time we’ve met,” he said. “The Lewis game, we’re winning the game late in the fourth quarter and we step up and miss seven free throws in a row.

“That’s points that we needed on the board. We held Lewis, who averages close to 80 points per game, to 58, but on the switch side, we threw up 50. We missed a ton of layups in that game.

“At Ashland, it was our post touches and our layups that we weren’t finishing plays. That’s who we are, to get the ball inside when we’re in the drive or in the post.”

One area that Mattson feels really isn’t a concern is turnovers as the Wildcats have cut down on them recently. Against Wayne State, NMU finished with only nine, and against the Eagles, last year’s national runner-up, the Wildcats didn’t succumb to Ashland’s pressure too much.

“We go to Ashland and we need to keep our turnovers down against them or else it’s going to create points for a team that scores 92 points a game. We turn it over 14 times and our goal is to keep it at 14 or less.”

Now both teams are back at home and on paper, the women appear to have an easier chance at coming out with a win Thursday night as they face a Lake Superior State team that is currently winless in the GLIAC. However, Mattson said that his team will not be overlooking the Lakers.

“They’re very physical,” he said. “Obviously, they’re not going to match up physically with us, but mentally, they are a tough team for what their attributes are. They push, they shove and they don’t give an inch.”

The NMU men definitely can’t afford to look ahead as the Lake State men have been a tough opponent for them the past few years, even though defending national champion Ferris State looms on Saturday.

Sall said his team needs to be ready for both nights and even though the Wildcats are on a four-game skid, the next few home games will be a good opportunity to get out off that.

“Every opponent, we’re going to play with maybe the exception of maybe one or two, you have to be at your best,” Sall said. “We have five games in a row here at home and that’s a big homestand and with the goals that we have with this team, we have to make sure that we perform like that every night we go out.”

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