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Northern Michigan University men’s basketball team falls to No. 21 Grand Valley State in 2 overtimes

Northern Michigan University’s Sam Taylor, right, takes a shot over Grand Valley State’s John Slater at the Berry Events Center on Thursday evening. (Journal photo by Corey Kelly)

MARQUETTE — It’s not easy to knock off a ranked basketball team for a second time in one season, which is what the Northern Michigan University men’s basketball team was trying to do on Thursday night.

After upsetting then-No. 11 Grand Valley State on the road in January, the Wildcats had a chance to defeat the now-No. 21 Lakers again on Thursday.

But NMU couldn’t close out the game in regulation and ended up falling in double overtime 82-79.

Dolapo Olayinka led the Wildcats (11-15, 8-10 GLIAC) with 23 points, while Sam Taylor and Alec Fruin both had 11 points. GVSU’s (21-5, 14-4) Jake Van Tubbergen led all scorers with 39 points.

Some coaches might be overly upset with the result, but Northern head coach Matt Majkrzak was pleased with how the Wildcats performed against one of the best teams in the country.

“I thought we played really, really well,” he said. “I think if you look, that’s one of those games that if you just watched that, you’d leave here thinking those were two of the better teams in the league.

“Obviously, they are and we’re not right now, but both games we’ve played against them, we’ve looked like one of the better teams in the league. And I couldn’t be more proud with how we played.”

In the second half, NMU started off well. Back-to-back 3-pointers from Marcus Matelski gave the Wildcats a 33-26 advantage within the first two minutes. After GVSU cut Northern’s lead to two on a layup by Van Tubbergen to make it 41-39, the Wildcats answered with a triple from Ben Wolf and a dunk by Myles Howard.

NMU eventually built a 12-point lead thanks to a Matelski trey and two free throws from Olayinka with 10:30 left.

GVSU wouldn’t go away, though. The Lakers gradually trimmed their deficit to two points at 58-56 with 3:46 left on a pair of Van Tubbergen free throws. NMU got its lead back to six on a step-back triple by Fruin to make it 66-60 with 2:10 left, but the Lakers pulled within one on a jumper by Van Tubbergen with 51 seconds left.

With less than a second remaining, NMU was called for a late foul on GVSU’s Jeremiah Ferguson, but he only made one of the two free throws and the game went into overtime 66-66.

In the first OT, the Lakers went up by four on two free throws by Ferguson at 72-68, but Olayinka answered with a 3-pointer with 1:23 left. With 13 seconds left, Ferguson beat the shot clock with a fadeaway jumper and it appeared that maybe the Lakers would close out the win, but Fruin drilled a trey from the top of the key with 2.1 seconds left to tie it 74-74 and force another extra period.

“That was a play bust,” Fruin said. “They did a really good job of covering up our actions all night and they had that covered up. So I was like, ‘You know what, just rise up and shoot it and see what happens,’ And it went in.

“Unfortunately, we played another five (minutes) and we didn’t get it done in the next five.”

Majkrzak was happy with how his team recovered from the late foul call in the regulation and falling behind in the first overtime.

“They showed a ton of resilience,” he said of his team. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that, especially on a home court, kind of a late call at the buzzer. It could definitely be deflating and I thought the way they responded in the first overtime, because we got down.

“It would’ve been easy to fold, and we came all the way back and had the ball with two seconds to go and had a shot to win it. I’m really proud of the group.”

NMU held a slim lead with 1:52 left in the second extra session as Olayinka sank a trey to put the Wildcats up 79-78. However, Ferguson made two free throws to give the lead back to the Lakers, and with 23 seconds left he stole the ball and scored a breakaway layup to push GVSU’s advantage to three. Northern had a chance to tie it at the buzzer, but the ball rimmed out.

In the first half, the teams traded baskets for the first 13 minutes. With the score tied 10-10 and 12:24 remaining, NMU went on a seven-point surge that included jumpers from Noah Parcher and Taylor along with a triple from Olayinka.

However, the Lakers rallied to tie the game at 17-17 and a trey from Ben Lubitz gave GVSU its first lead at 20-17 with 5:48 left. After a media timeout with 3:02 remaining and the Lakers leading 24-20, Fruin drove the baseline for a layup to cut the deficit to two and Olayinka knocked down a 3-pointer with less than a minute left to put the Wildcats up 25-24 at the half.

With the loss, the road to the GLIAC Tournament gets tougher for ninth-seeded Northern as it now needs to beat Davenport on Saturday to have any real hope of clinching a postseason bid. Though the Wildcats would be out of the tourney right now, they only trail the next four teams by a single game with two left to play.

“I think the big key is coming ready (Saturday),” Fruin said. “Our preparation tomorrow has to be on point. I thought it hadn’t been on point for a few weeks, and I thought this week was much better.

“But I think after a loss like that, you just have to come back and say ‘You know what, let’s remember that feeling, but now it’s time to lock in for Davenport.’

“I’m already thinking about Davenport right now and obviously, I’m hurting, but we’ve got to get those guys.”

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