NMU women suffer another last-second setback

Northern Michigan University’s Darby Youngstrom, left, prepares for a layup as Saginaw Valley State University’s Halee Nieman, right, blocks Thursday at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Journal photo by Rachel Oakley

MARQUETTE — The Northern Michigan University women’s basketball team is within seconds of a nine-game winning streak.

Instead, the Wildcats are 5-4 in that stretch dating back nearly a month with all four losses in that time coming down to the closing seconds.

That includes Thursday night’s 62-60 home loss to Saginaw Valley State, when NMU had three chances in the final moments to defeat the Cardinals, leaders of the GLIAC North Division and on the cusp of a national ranking, too.

NMU head coach Troy Mattson said his team is having uncharacteristic poor play when it matters most in their defeats.

“We didn’t execute on offense down the stretch and kept turning it over,” Mattson said. “We missed free throws, layups and passes, and they’re all crucial parts of the game.

“I’m not happy with what transipired in this game. We’re a better team with better players in this program than how we ended this game.”

An unusual play sealed the Wildcats’ fate.

After SVSU missed several free throw attempts that could’ve put NMU away, Northern guard Bre Gaspervich found herself at the free-throw line with 2 seconds left and her team trailing by two, 61-59.

The team’s lone senior and top scorer missed the first shot, necessitating an intentional miss of the second to try for an offensive rebound and tying putback shot.

But the Cardinals, feeling they knew Gaspervich’s intentions, looked like they intentionally stood in the lane to have a violation called and keep Gaspervich at the line.

Twice Gaspervich missed and twice SVSU was called for a violation before the Cards called timeout.

Gaspervich then made her second free throw, making the score 61-60, and Gaspervich immediately fouled on the inbounds play. Katelyn Carriere made one of a pair of free throws for the final margin as time ran out.

In the first 2 1/2 quarters, neither team had more than a four-point lead. NMU upped its advantage to five points, 43-38, on a pair of Taylor Hodell free throws with 5:16 left in the third.

The game went back to near even until a Cardinals’ 8-0 run to open the fourth quarter gave them a 57-48 lead with 6:52 to go.

The Wildcats spent the remaining time chipping away at their deficit, and with a minute remaining, Darby Youngstrom turned an offensive rebound into a layup to cut the Cardinals’ lead to 61-59.

With 30 seconds left, the Wildcats caught a break when Saginaw Valley’s Emily Wendling was called for an offensive foul, giving the ball back to the Wildcats.

Northern’s Taylor Hodell cut into the Cardinals’ lane at the other end and tried a spin shot, but the ball rolled off the rim to give the Cardinals possession with 10 seconds remaining.

While NMU’s hopes began to fade when Saginaw Valley’s Grace Whelan was sent to the free throw line, the Cardinals’ forward missed both throws to give the Wildcats another life.

Even after the unusual Gaspervich free-throw situation, SVSU’s Katelyn Carriere made just one of two free throws with a second left, setting up a shot nearly the length of the court by NMU’s Tess Weatherly. As time expired, the shot slammed the backboard next to the hoop but not in.

Youngstrom said her team failed to take advantage of the opportunities the Cardinals continued to give them.

“We were trying to step it up defensively in the fourth,” Youngstrom said. “Our toughness wasn’t there and there was no intensity. We got back into the game, but we couldn’t capitalize on plays.”

Youngstrom led NMU with 20 points and seven rebounds, while Hodell came off the bench to rack up 14 points. Teammate Sydney Dillinger came off the bench to make three steals, three blocked shots and five rebounds.

Wendling scored 25 points for the Cardinals, while Halee Nieman added 12 and Carriere 10.

Despite the setback, the Wildcats (10-7) remain sixth in the GLIAC standings, now though two games out of the important top four that host opening-round GLIAC Tournament games. Their magic number for locking up any kind of playoff position is 1 with any Northern win or Findlay loss clinching a spot.