Post players recover early from injury, help NMU rally past SVSU

MARQUETTE – Freshman Nea Makela and sophomore Abbey DeBruin weren’t even supposed to be here Thursday night.

Makela and DeBruin both were benched with knee injuries a week ago in losses at Ferris State and Grand Valley State and neither was expected back anytime soon.

Both took the floor as reserves on Thursday, however, to provide a much needed post presence in a 67-57 come-from-behind GLIAC victory over Saginaw Valley State at the Berry Events Center in Marquette.

Makela and DeBruin only combined for 38 minutes in the win but made a world of difference, according to NMU head coach Troy Mattson.

“We are a different basketball team when Nea Makela and Abbey DeBruin are on the court,” Mattson said. “We have a post presence then, people that we can throw it in there and get baskets. We didn’t have it last week.”

Mattson said DeBruin was in and out of practice throughout the week and as of Tuesday, Makela couldn’t walk.

The Finnish freshman, who averages 5.9 rebounds per game to lead NMU on the boards, was projected last week to miss anywhere from 3-4 weeks, or possibly the season, prior to her Monday MRI.

Mattson got a surprise five minutes before Thursday’s game, though, with Makela being cleared to play. She finished with seven points and five rebounds while DeBruin posted 10 points and five boards with both playing 19 minutes each.

“Things change by the minute,” Mattson said.

Northern trailed in the opening minutes, 20-9, unable to contain SVSU forward Emily Wendling with Makela and DeBruin on the bench. Wendling scored 17 of her game-high 26 points in the first half before NMU began double-teaming her.

Mattson credited sophomore Lauren Gruber for making the rest of Wendling’s night miserable as NMU rallied to pull within six of SVSU at halftime, 30-24.

“We really had to dig in and change some things on defense to stop Emily Wendling, who is going to be a load in this league,” Mattson said. “She is a player. We heard she was a potential Division I recruit and she ended up going to Saginaw. She can finish.”

A DeBruin free throw with 9:48 to play in the game gave NMU its first lead since the 16:40 mark of the first half.

Meanwhile, Gruber, sophomore Alyssa Colla and sophomore Sarah Miller were taking advantage of the attention DeBruin and Makela drew inside to put NMU up by as many as 14 points in the second half.

Colla finished with a team-high 20 points on 6-of-12 shooting from the field, 2-of-4 shooting from 3-point territory and 6-of-6 shooting at the free-throw line.

Gruber was 4 of 7 from the field and 6 of 6 on free throws for 14 points and Miller added eight via 3-of-5 field-goal shooting and a perfect 2 for 2 night from beyond the arc – including a last-second heave before the shot-clock expired with just over six minutes to play, putting NMU up 10.

“We didn’t want to come out like we did, obviously, but for a young team to come together like that and finish is what we have to start doing from here on out,” Colla said. “We have been struggling at finishing games.”

Wayne State visits the Berry Events Center at 1 p.m. Saturday after falling out of first place in the GLIAC North on Thursday night. The Warriors lost at Michigan Tech, 77-56.

Mattson said both Makela and DeBruin will be key against WSU, even if the injured post presences aren’t at 100 percent.

“They have got to be big,” Mattson said. “We have to get the ball inside and we have to score. We have to be able to make plays, and both of them can.”

Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.