NMU head coach Doug Lewis laments Wildcats lack of energy, focus in loss to Lake Superior State

MARQUETTE – Eight of the GLIAC’s 16 teams get to participate in the league’s postseason basketball tournament, a powerful motivator to teams having good to moderate success this season.

Unfortunately for the Northern Michigan University men’s squad, the Wildcats aren’t one of those teams in the running.

But Lake Superior State is and it was one reason cited by Northern coach Doug Lewis for the Lakers coming into the Berry Events Center and taking a 58-41 victory on Thursday evening.

“You could see that Lake Superior State was ready to play,” he said. “They’re playing for a playoff spot.”

LSSU improved to 13-11 overall and 10-10 in the GLIAC, good for a tie with Northwood for the No. 7 seed.

Malone is also tied with LSSU and NU, but like sixth-place Walsh, is not eligible for the GLIAC tourney this season.

Northern, on the other hand, is tied for the second-worst record in the league at 4-16, which also leaves the Wildcats (5-19 overall) buried in last place in the North Division.

“We just had no energy and no focus,” Lewis said in the aftermath of Thursday’s game. “Last time we had a chance, we had a good practice.”

The Wildcats didn’t practice Tuesday and Wednesday after classes were called off due to a winter storm.

“I have a hard time pinpointing it,” Lewis said. “We’re young and we don’t have that one vocal leader. Everything is done by committee.

“These young guys need to find the motivation to want to get better. They’ve got to understand that you need pride in the team and the pride to want to get better as individual players.”

The Lakers’ motivation seemed apparent from the get-go as they outhustled Northern throughout the first half, getting to the vast majority of loose balls and finding an open man under the basket with a backdoor pass on more than one occasion.

LSSU had leads of 7-0 and 12-5 in the early going, though a 3-pointer by NMU’s Spencer Huss of Marquette cut the deficit to 12-10 with 13:13 left before halftime.

But another 12-2 run by LSSU over the next five minutes gave the Lakers a cushion they wouldn’t relinquish.

Northern trailed 35-21 at halftime and played even on the scoreboard for about seven minutes to trail 44-31.

But one final offensive drought doomed the Wildcats, even while keeping the Lakers from scoring for the game’s final seven minutes.

That’s because NMU went scoreless itself for just over nine minutes in almost the same stretch.

As it was, LSSU “outscored” Northern 6-5 in the game’s final 10:29.

Junior forward Matthew Craggs was the only Wildcat to score in double figures with 12 points, including a trio of 3-pointers. Another junior forward, Scooter Johnson, added nine points.

Sophomore forward Kendall Jackson led NMU rebounders with five to go with five points.

For LSSU, junior guard Derek Billing scored 14 points as he sank all three of his triple tries, while senior forward Derek Kinney added 13 points along with a game-high eight rebounds. Lakers’ sophomore guard Alex Williams scored 10 points and made three steals.

Northern closes its home season at 1 p.m. Saturday when it plays another of the eighth-place contenders, Northwood.

Wildcat seniors Joe Simon of Marquette and TJ Cameron will be honored before the game, while an overtime period will be held at Hudson’s Classic Grill on U.S. 41 West at 5 p.m. with the public invited.

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