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Finding a way to win: Northern Michigan University women heat up in 4th quarter to top Saginaw Valley State, 56-53

Northern Michigan University’s Erin Honkala, center, goes up for a shot against Saginaw Valley State’s Kaitlyn Geers, right, during their GLIAC game played Saturday at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Journal photo by Amy Grigas)

“We’re not turning it over, we’re getting good shots and then our defense and our rebounding has been holding us in there.” — Troy Mattson, head coach, NMU women’s basketball

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MARQUETTE — For the second straight game, the Northern Michigan University women’s basketball team had to get its offense untracked before it could pull out a GLIAC victory over Saginaw Valley State at the Berry Events Center on Saturday.

The Wildcats made enough shots in the fourth quarter to defeat the Cardinals 56-53 as NMU’s Jessica Schultz and Erin Honkala each finished with 14 points and teammate Makaylee Kuhn had 12.

Much the same happened Thursday night in a 55-47 home win over Northwood as the Wildcats finished the weekend at 5-5 overall, 2-0 in the league.

When asked what the difference in Saturday’s victory was, Northern head coach Troy Mattson’s answer was simple.

“We made a couple shots,” he said with a chuckle. “My goodness. We played really good early, both offensively and defensively. We got a 17-7 lead at the end of the first quarter and they switched to a 2-3 zone because they couldn’t stop us inside.

“So I checked our shooters in and they missed every shot. Wide open. I don’t know what else to tell you. It’s just the truth.

“And we hung in there and hung in there, and finally Elena (Alaix) made one. Then she made two. And then, finally, Makaylee made one and then she made two and kind of gave us … a little lead coming down the stretch.

“It wasn’t pretty, it was actually quite ugly, probably the worst shooting performance on a home court (when) we actually won a game.”

After going into the half tied 26-26, the teams traded baskets throughout the third quarter. A putback from Alaix gave NMU a 35-34 lead with 2:54 left before the Wildcats’ defense forced the Cardinals (5-5, 1-1) into a shot-clock violation and a traveling call.

However, SVSU’s Tyler Scheid hit a triple 16 seconds before the end of the quarter to give the Cards a 39-37 advantage heading into the fourth.

That’s when the Wildcats found their shooting touch. Alaix hit back-to-back triples to open the quarter, and after SVSU’s Ashley Buchholz made a jumper, Kuhn’s trey put NMU back up by five, 46-41.

With 2:16 left, another 3-pointer by Kuhn pushed the Wildcats’ advantage to eight at 51-43. The Cardinals didn’t go away, though, cutting Northern’s lead to three on two occasions, once on a triple by Maddie Barrie with 1:09 left and then a jumper by Kaitlyn Zaryicki with 25 seconds to go.

But Kuhn made two free throws and teammate Liz Lutz one in the closing seconds to preserve the victory.

The Wildcats travel to rival Michigan Tech at 1 p.m. Sunday.

After a rough road trip to Missouri, Northern has now won two straight and Mattson likes how his team is looking as it prepares to face the Huskies in Houghton.

“We played really good against Drury, the No. 1 team in the country, we just were out so many bodies,” he said. “We made a couple adjustments on our defense and we’re starting to get pretty good at it. So I really like the direction this team is going right now.

“I think we’re playing well, other than shooting the basketball today, we’re playing pretty well. We’re not turning it over, we’re getting good shots and then our defense and our rebounding has been holding us in there.”

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