Wildcats’ comeback falls short against SVSU

MARQUETTE – The numbers tell the story in most basketball games.

They certainly did in a 56-51 loss by the Northern Michigan University men’s team to Saginaw Valley State at home on Thursday night.

But they weren’t the usual numbers, like shooting percentages, turnovers or assists.

Instead, they were the numbers on the bench. The Wildcats had just eight players available, meaning a bench only three deep.

It nearly became two when starting point guard Quentin Calloway was hurt in the groin area early in the second half and could barely walk off the court.

Eventually, though, he recovered enough to re-enter the game and lead NMU to a big comeback that fell short in the final minute.

But Wildcats head coach Doug Lewis was disappointed in what put his team in the big hole it had to dig out of.

“In the first three minutes, we didn’t play with the type of urgency we needed to,” he said. “We have no room for error with the club we have right now. We need to get 40 minutes of solid basketball.”

Northern fell behind 8-3 with 3:13 elapsed and never pulled even again, falling behind by as many as 13 points in the first half and trailing 33-24 at halftime.

Calloway, the Wildcats primary ball handler with freshman point guard Terry Nash out for the season, was hurt barely two minutes into the second half. With him out, the Cardinals took their biggest lead of the game – 15 points at 44-29 – just a couple minutes later.

The lead remained in double digits until 7 1/2 minutes remained, when Marquette’s Joe Simon made a layup to pull the Wildcats within 54-45. It came in the midst of a 12-0 run by Northern powered by four steals and some timely offensive rebounds that got NMU to within 54-51 with 2:28 to go.

But the home team couldn’t take advantage as time wound down, since SVSU subsequently committed a turnover and missed two shots. Northern’s Matthew Craggs, the game’s top scorer with 21 points, lost the handle on the ball in the lane before the Cardinals hit a couple free throws with eight seconds to go to make it a two-possession game.

Craggs and Kendall Jackson each grabbed five rebounds for NMU (4-11 overall, 3-8 GLIAC) as Calloway finished with 11 points.

For SVSU (7-6, 3-8), Chris Webb had 15 points, Rob Clark 10 points and seven rebounds, and Kellen Smith seven rebounds, six assists and three steals.

The Wildcats feature a roster with 14 names on it. But due to two freshman redshirts – Derek Hussinger and Jeron Lee – and four injuries, that roster is barely at half-strength.

Nash was supposed to be the starting point guard, but fractured his foot early on this season, and the other projected starting guard, sophomore Haki Stampley, has been out the entire season with an unspecified health issue.

Then junior forward Michael Smith was knocked out with a torn ligament in his foot, and just recently, junior Scooter Johnson went down with a torn ligament in his shooting hand.

“I don’t want to make excuses, because you have to play with the hand you’re dealt,” Lewis said, though he was willing to acknowledge that the shortage of players has hurt his preferred strategy of high-intensity defensive pressure and fast-break offense.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.