Challenge at the top: Northern Michigan University men’s basketball team still in hunt for GLIAC title with 5 games to go
MARQUETTE — The Northern Michigan University men’s basketball team is just one game out of first place in the GLIAC with five games to go, including this week’s pair of games downstate.
The Wildcats, who are tied for second place with a 9-4 conference record, travel to Grand Rapids to face last-place Davenport (2-10) at 7:30 p.m. today and to Allendale to play against fifth-place Grand Valley State (7-5) at 3 p.m. Saturday.
Wisconsin-Parkside leads the GLIAC at 10-3 as NMU is tied with Ferris State at 9-4. Lake Superior State is just a game behind at 8-5, while GVSU is also just one behind in the loss column.
Northern (17-6 overall) won both games last week after losing a pair the week before. Last week, the Wildcats dropped Saginaw Valley State 81-64 on Thursday and Wayne State 63-58 on Saturday.
Against the Cardinals, four NMU players scored in double figures, totaling 67 of the Wildcats’ 81 points. Freshman Max Weisbrod led the way with 18 points and 11 rebounds, while senior, conference scoring leader and GLIAC Preseason Player of the Year Max Bjorklund had 17 points and Jackson
Northern had to pull off a big comeback to make it a weekend sweep on Saturday. The Wildcats fell behind 27-10 in the first half, but caught up quickly even though they didn’t get the lead back until more than halfway through the second half.
Bjorklund led the comeback, scoring 12 of his team-high 16 points after halftime as Weisbrod added 12 points, six rebounds and five assists.
Redshirt freshman Dylan Kuehl hit a pair of last-minute baskets to put the result on ice.
Despite being a youth-oriented team, the Wildcats have the lowest turnover average in the league at 10.3, which is also 11th in NCAA Division II. They also have a plus-6.9 margin in rebounding while allowing the fewest offensive rebounds in the conference.
Bjorklund scored just enough points to keep his scoring lead in the GLIAC as he and Davenport Marcellus Leech Jr. are both listed at 20.1 points per game. Dividing it out, Bjorklund still has a 0.06 ppg lead on Leech.
Kuehl averages 13.6 ppg and a team-leading 6.5 rebounds a game while he makes a league-leading 60.1% from the field. Weisbrod averages 11.7 ppg and leads the Wildcats with 4.8 assists per game, second in the conference.
In the lastest D2SIDA Midwest Regional poll, NMU is ranked sixth.
Bjorklund was also named to the Top 100 Watch List for the Clarence “Bevo” Francis Award as announced by the Small College Basketball and National Awards Committee.
The award is presented annually to the player who has had the finest overall season within what is termed small college basketball. The Top 50 Watch List will be released Wednesday.
Davenport enters today’s game at 6-16, having lost four straight with a 3-8 record at home this season. While averaging 71.6 ppg, they give up a league-high 80.0 ppg to opponents, while making the most turnovers at 15.7 per game.
On Jan. 21, NMU downed the Panthers 89-74 in Marquette as Bjorklund scored 33 points, making 11 of 17 shots, including 7 of 10 on 3-pointers. Kuehl had 18 of his 21 points in the first half as he made 6 of 8 from the field then, while Weisbrod had 11 assists.
Leech, though, scored 22 of his career-high 35 points in the second half, overall making 11 of 20 from the field.
Grand Valley has won five of six to improve to 13-9 overall, including 6-3 at home. The Lakers average 75.5 ppg while giving up 70.2. Ten GVSU players average at least six points per game, led by 6-foot-11 Marquette Senior High School graduate Marius Grazulis, a junior, at 11.7 ppg and 6.3 rebounds.
When the teams met on Jan. 19, the Lakers prevailed 82-77 to break NMU’s eight-game winning streak as Grazulis had a game-high 11 rebounds to go with 14 points.
That was despite Kuehl pumping in 25 points and Weisbrod handing out 10 assists.
In this up-and-down game, Northern trailed by double digits in the first half only to come back and take a nine-point advantage in the second half before GVSU rallied late to win.
Fans can follow this NMU team @NMUMensBBALL and @NMU_Wildcats on Twitter. For video, audio, live statistics, game notes and series histories, visit the NMU athletics website at nmuwildcats.com under the men’s basketball schedule.
Information compiled by Journal Sports Editor Steve Brownlee. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.