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Long-range freeze-out: Northern Michigan University men’s basketball team struggles with 3-pointers in 53-50 loss to Northwood

Northern Michigan University’s Ben Wolf, right, goes up for a basket as Northwood’s Bruno Solomun defends during the first half of the Wildcats’ home opener on Thursday at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Journal photo by Amy Grigas)

“Once I made my first layup, I just kept going and I tried to bring us back.” — Sam Taylor, NMU senior guard, on helping the Wildcats come back to start the second half

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MARQUETTE — Snow was in the forecast Thursday night in Marquette County with flurries falling outside the Berry Events Center during the Northern Michigan University men’s basketball GLIAC opener against Northwood.

Apparently, that cold weather found its way inside the arena as the Wildcats were ice cold from beyond the 3-point line in their home opener.

NMU finished 3 of 23 from beyond the arc and a desperation trey attempt from senior Sam Taylor rimmed out at the buzzer as the Wildcats fell to the Timberwolves 53-50.

Taylor led the Wildcats (3-4, 0-1 GLIAC) with 10 points.

“All day, we couldn’t make shots and I think that was the key to the game,” Taylor said. “We played hard, the intensity was there and we had some nice energy from the bench, but we’ve got to make plays at the end of the day.”

Although it was a frustrating night from long distance, NMU head coach Matt Majkrzak wasn’t too upset with how things went in his first home game as Wildcats head coach. That’s because a big part of his offense is shooting 3-pointers.

“We’re going to be a team that’s going to shoot 3s,” he said. “That’s what we do. I don’t mind 23 attempts.

“Maybe it could’ve been a few less, but this group right now, the big thing is giving a young group confidence in their ability to shoot the ball. We had the right guys shooting the ball. Ben (Wolf), Sam, Alec (Fruin) and Dolapo (Olayinka) all go 0 of 4.

“I’m OK with those four guys shooting four 3s, I’ll have to watch the film to see if they were open, but by in large, that’s how we want to play. We just didn’t play well enough tonight.”

Down by four points at the half, Taylor tried to will the Wildcats back into the game as he made a steal and layup to cut the Timberwolves’ lead to two.

Later he put in his own rebound with 10:54 left to tie the game 35-35.

Northern grabbed its first lead of the second half with 9:49 left with two free throws by Myles Howard, and after Northwood’s Trey McBride tied the game with a layup, Wolf slammed home a dunk to give the lead back to the Wildcats at 41-39.

“I felt that I had to step up,” Taylor said. “Coach got on me at halftime because I turned the ball over three times in the first half and he told me I had to do better. That kind of filled me up and once I made my first layup, I just kept going and I tried to bring us back.”

A three-point play from David Jelinek put the Timberwolves (5-2, 1-0) ahead 42-41, but Noah Parcher dropped in two free throws to put Northern back up by one.

That was the last time the Wildcats held a lead, though, as Northwood built a five-point advantage with less than three minutes left.

Marcus Matelski got NMU’s deficit down to two with a trey to make it 50-48 with 24.6 seconds left, but the Wildcats couldn’t get the tying or go-ahead bucket.

For the majority of the first half, NMU was in control. The Wildcats opened with back-to-back layups from Wolf, while tight defense forced Northwood into a shot clock violation with 14:21 left. The Wildcats held six-point leads three different times, two of them off layups by Olayinka.

Trailing 17-11 with 8:50 remaining before halftime, the Timberwolves found their groove. Northwood went on a 13-0 run that included a three-point play from Danny Kolp and a triple from McBride before Olayinka ended the Timberwolves’ surge with a scoop play with 2:06 left. But NU had taken the lead.

A jumper from NMU’s Justin Kuehl cut Northwood’s advantage to 24-22 with 1:33 left, but McBride dropped in a fadeaway jumper to put the Timberwolves up 26-22 at the break. Eleven of Northwood’s points in the half came off of Northern turnovers.

“They have two of the most athletic guards in the conference and I thought their ball pressure really bothered us, maybe more so than I thought it would,” Majkrzak said. “I thought we needed halftime to come in and settle down.

“To be blatantly honest, (former Wildcats) Naba (Echols) and Isaiah (Johnson) have handled the ball against the pressure for the last four years and it’s a new role for Sam and Alec to have to do that.

“I didn’t think they did a great job of it in the first half, and I thought it got a lot better in the second half.”

NMU hosts Saginaw Valley State in their second GLIAC game of the season at 1 p.m. Saturday. The Cardinals fell at Michigan Tech 79-57 on Thursday.

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