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No charity from the stripe: Free throw issues doom NMU women who lose to Lewis, 58-50

NMU Wildcat Amber Huebner prepares to shoot while being gaurded by Lewis Flyer Kaitlyn Williams, left, and Morgan Gkatczak, right, during their game Monday, Dec. 17, 2018. (Journal photo by Trinity Carey)

MARQUETTE — The free throw line is sometimes called the charity stripe, a chance for a team to get easy uncontested points.

For some reason, the Northern Michigan University women’s basketball team couldn’t take advantage of that helping hand though and that hurt them in the end against Lewis Monday night. The Wildcats were 5 for 13 shooting from the line, missing several chances to put the game away in the fourth quarter as they closed out the first half of the season with a 58-50 loss to the Flyers.

The defeat snapped a five-game winning streak for the Wildcats as they head into the holiday break and for Lewis, it avenged a loss to Northern earlier this season.

“Free throws were the game,” NMU head coach Troy Mattson said. “In my eyes, we controlled the tempo and we controlled what we wanted to do for the majority of the game. Then we stepped up there and started missing all the free throws. We could’ve extended that seven or eight-point lead and maybe we get it up into the teens and put the pressure on them instead of putting the pressure on us. Because as I told them at halftime, if we don’t put them away, at the end of the game, they’re (the Flyers) going to throw it to (Jessica) Kelliher every single time down the court and she’s going to beat us. It’s that simple. She’s good enough to beat you at the end of the game and she did. She finished shots, made free throws and made great passes. That’s exactly what happened.

“It came because of the free throws. We did a great job defensively all the way around throughout the whole game. Rebounding-wise, they had one offensive rebound at halftime and I felt really good about that. Then all of a sudden, for some reason, the phase of the game that should be the easiest becomes the hardest for us and that cost us the game.”

NMU Women's Basketball Head Coach Troy Mattson talks with players during a timeout called in the second period of their game against the Lewis Flyers Monday, Dec. 17, 2018. (Journal photo by Trinity Carey)

A 3-pointer and a basket from Kelliher helped Lewis tie the game at 47-47 with just under seven minutes left in the fourth quarter. The Flyers (8-1) took their first lead of the game shortly after that on a Kelliher free throw, but Youngstrom scored on a putback and a free throw from Erin Honkala gave Northern a 50-47 advantage. However, that was it for the Wildcats (9-3, 4-0 GLIAC) offensively. Lewis eventually tied the game again and started giving the ball to Kelliher down low. She put in two straight layups to put the Flyers up by four points and at other end, NMU seemed content putting up contested shots rather than looking for the open player on the perimeter. With the Wildcats’ offense stalling, a layup from Lewis’ Tierney Lockett virtually put the game away at 56-50 with a little more than two minutes left.

“We needed to pass it and Lewis made a great adjustment,” Mattson said. “They put their three bigs out there at the same time to nullify us around the basket and that really did. (Morgan) Glaczak made some blocks on us and Kelliher was big in there and (Rachel) Hinders was guarding Darby and it wasn’t easy for her. They went really big, which they don’t normally do, but that’s what they had to do and it slowed us down and that helped them get the win. When you bring the ball inside, then we’ve got good shooters like Jessica (Schultz) out there and that ball needs to pop back out to her and she needs to be able to make shots, but we didn’t do that either.”

The Wildcats opened up the game on an 8-0 run, highlighted by a layup by Schultz on a feed from Youngstrom. With 4:45 left in the first quarter, Honkala drained a 3-pointer to put NMU up 13-6 and former Marquette Redette Amber Huebner closed out the first quarter with a buzzer-beating layup to give the Wildcats a 16-11 advantage.

Lewis rallied early in the second quarter, tying the game at 19-19 on a jumper. With the game tied at 21-21, Northern’s Baleigh Delorit knocked down back-to-back triples to give the Wildcats a six-point lead. Later in the quarter, Youngstrom beat the shot clock with a bucket to put NMU up 31-24 and it went into the break with a 31-26 lead.

The Flyers opened up the third quarter with four straight points to pull within one of the Wildcats, but Delorit hit another trey to end that brief run. Later in the third, Northern went on another 8-0 run, one of the baskets coming from Lexi Smith on a pass from Delorit. A steal and a layup from Liz Lutz put NMU up 44-38 and it ended the quarter with a 44-40 advantage, but couldn’t hold onto it in the end.

NMU Wildcat Darby Youngstrom searches for a pass while being defended by Lewis Flyer Tierney Lockett during their game Monday, Dec. 17, 2018. (Journal photo by Trinity Carey)

When asked how he feels at the halfway point of the season, Mattson said he simply told his team that they just need to be ready to go after the holiday break.

“I told them this yesterday, no matter what happens today, we’re going to come back from Christmas and we’re going to play for a GLIAC Championship,” he said. “We’re in a position to do that and that’s what it’s going to be. We need to come back ready to play every single night and finish the job.”

Northern doesn’t play again until Jan. 3 when it travels to Wayne State. The Wildcats’ next home game is Jan. 10 against Lake Superior State.