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Dolapo Olayinka uses newfound shooting abilities to lift Northern Michigan University men to overtime victory over Davenport

Northern Michigan University’s Dolapo Olayinka shoots a layup over the Davenport defense during their GLIAC game played at the Berry Events Center in Marquette on Saturday. (Journal photo by Corey Kelly)

MARQUETTE — During the off-season, Northern Michigan University redshirt sophomore Dolapo Olayinka worked on his jump shot, and on Saturday he showed that practice pays off.

Heading into the game against Davenport, the postseason chances for the Wildcats were slim as they needed a victory over the Panthers to realistically keep any hopes alive for making the GLIAC Tournament.

And Olayinka made sure that a postseason bid remained a possibility.

With 16 seconds left in regulation, Olayinka hit a 3-pointer to tie the game 68-68 and send it into overtime. In the extra session, he knocked down another triple to tie it again at 74-74 with 1:39 left, and then dropped in a layup with 47 seconds remaining to give NMU a 76-74 lead.

The Wildcats then made their free throws in the closing seconds to emerge with an 80-74 win. Olayinka finished with 18 points, while Sam Taylor led Northern (12-15, 9-10 GLIAC) with 19.

“My mindset was I didn’t want to lose,” Olayinka said about his game-tying triple in regulation. “We’ve lost like four games in a row before that, so we just needed a win bad.

“Plus, it’s Senior Night and I wanted to do it for my seniors because they helped me through a lot. Myles (Howard) helped me with defense and Sam helped me with offense and all the little stuff and I just wanted to win it for them.

“I told Sam, ‘Just give me the ball and I’m gonna shoot it and I know I’ll make it.’ I had confidence because I know I put a lot of work (in) this summer. So I had confidence and I just shot it and it went in.

“My freshman year (I) was a back-to-the-basket forward and I got hurt my sophomore year. So I just focused on my jump shot and just tried to expand my game a little bit. That was my main point, and as you can see it worked out.”

Wildcats head coach Matt Majkrzak was relieved that his team ground out a win after falling just short two days earlier in double overtime to nationally ranked Grand Valley State.

“We’ve been there a lot lately,” he said about coming close but not quite winning. “The last three at home have all been in overtime and the last three games (overall) have been Ferris (State), Grand Valley and Davenport, all decided on the last possession of regulation and it still wasn’t decided in two of those cases.

“It took the seniors not wanting to lose on Senior Night. What we talked about before the game is obviously it’s a huge deal with the seniors, but in a lot of ways, it’s also on the underclassmen to perform and to try to give those guys that moment.

“Kind of my happiest part of the whole game was after we got through all the Senior Night stuff, seeing Myles, Sam, Marcus (Matelski) and their families all happy.

“I actually walked up to Dolapo and I’m like ‘This is what I was talking about. Your play allows these guys to have such a special moment with their families.’ Those guys deserved it.”

The teams traded baskets for a majority of regulation. With 8:50 left, Taylor drove the lane for a layup to make it 52-49 Northern, but Chris Pearl stole the ball on the Wildcats’ next time down the floor and threw down a dunk to pull DU within one.

After a Matelski triple with 7:09 left put NMU up 57-53, DU (19-10, 11-8) started to roll. The Panthers went on a 12-0 run that included back-to-back buckets from Pearl and a 3-pointer from Evan Hines to make it 65-57 DU.

The Wildcats fought back, though. Olayinka made two free throws to cut NMU’s deficit to five, and after a Taylor steal, Matelski hit a triple to whittle it to two with 1:15 remaining. Following a Hines free throw, Olayinka tied it with his big trey to make it 68-68. DU had two tries to win it in the final seconds, but missed both shots.

Just like the majority of the second half, neither team built much momentum in the first half as there was frequently an answer for each made shot. Not to mention the fact that there were several foul calls that put the Wildcats and Panthers at the line quite a bit.

NMU got back-to-back triples from Taylor and Matelski to go up 6-2, but DU quickly tied it. With 6:53 left, Taylor made an off-balance trey to put the Wildcats up 22-20, but a turnaround jumper by Robbie Bramhill tied it up again.

Northern went on a quick run on a 3-pointer from Matelski and two free throws from Howard take a 27-22 lead, but a three-point play with 2:37 remaining gave the Panthers a slim 29-27 advantage.

After a Taylor triple and two free throws from DU’s Tafari Beckford with 1:39 left, Taylor drove the lane and passed the ball to Ben Wolf, who threw down a dunk to put Northern up 32-20 at the half.

NMU will try to clinch a GLIAC tourney bid Thursday as it ends the regular season at home against rival Michigan Tech. While the Huskies are sitting pretty with the conference’s No. 3 seed, Northern is in a three-way tie for seventh with Ashland and Lake Superior State. Only two of those in the tie would make the playoff if the season ended now.

“I can’t think of a better way to end our home schedule either way (than) with playing Tech at home with making the tournament on the line,” Majkrzak said. “It’s kind of the script you draw up for the first season (as a coach) in a lot of ways.

“I wish we weren’t in the position, but now that we are, we’ve got to kind of embrace it and realize that we get to play a really, really huge basketball game for this team and this program.”

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