NMU men’s hoops blows 14 point lead late to lose home finale against Northwood

MARQUETTE – Northern Michigan University third-year head men’s basketball coach Doug Lewis summed up his team’s latest loss best on Saturday afternoon in the underbelly of the Berry Events Center.

“We’re 5-20, so that means we don’t know how to win,” Lewis said.

The Wildcats proved their coach’s statement was much more than a theory, blowing a 14-point lead with 5:57 to play in a 69-66 loss to Northwood in the second-to-last game of 2012-13 and final game of another losing season in Marquette.

The ‘Cats close out six days from now against Michigan Tech at 1 p.m. on Saturday in Houghton with the Huskies seeking revenge for a 59-55 win by Northern on Feb. 2 in Marquette.

“The only thing we can do is fight and work hard the whole rest of the week, ” said NMU junior Matthew Craggs, who led the ‘Cats in scoring with 21 points. “We only have one game left in the year and we want to end on a high note, especially against Tech.”

Coming out of halftime tied 28-28 with the Timberwolves (12-13 overall; 11-10 in GLIAC), the Wildcats (5-20; 4-17) jumped out to an eight-point lead and were on track for a feel-good Senior Day celebration for forward TJ Cameron – who transferred to NMU a year ago from Mott Community College – and Marquette native Joe Simon – the guard who transferred to Northern following his freshman year at Lake Superior State.

Cameron, who has made a name for himself in two seasons as a Wildcat as a shut-down defender, finished with a modest four points on 2-of-5 shooting and five rebounds.

Simon, who graduated from Marquette Senior High School as the Redmen’s all-time leading scorer, had a banner day scoring a career-high 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the field and 3-of-7 shooting from the free throw line.

“I played a good game, but I’d rather come out of here with a win on my last day here playing at the Berry Events Center in Marquette,” Simon said. “I’ve been playing here for years and years, but it’s kind of sad we came out with a loss.

“It’s been a roller coaster ride. I’ve had a lot of highs and a lot of lows.”

The final game in Marquette for Simon, who was a three-time All-U.P. Dream Team selection, two-time Great Northern Conference Player of the Year and two-time honorable mention all-state honoree, was spoiled by his team’s inability to score in the final 4:39 of play on the removable BEC hardwood.

A three-point play by Northwood’s Wes Wilcox cut the Wildcats’ lead to 10 points with 4:27 on the BEC clock.

That margin fell to five, 66-61, following two turnovers by freshman Stephen Pelkofer, a layup by NU’s Darvin Ham and 3-pointer by teammate Devin Langkabel with 3:10 to go.

“We tried to slow it down a little bit, but it kind of got us off rhythm,” Craggs said. “We slowed down even more because we were trying to run some clock because we were up by 10. Mainly it got us off rhythm.”

Turnovers by sophomore Quinten Calloway and Cameron in the final three minutes, combined with missed layups by junior Scooter Johnson and Craggs allowed the Timberwolves to pull within three on a layup by Cameron Joyce and to tie the game on a trey by Wilcox with 48 seconds on the clock.

Johnson, who finished with 15 points, then missed a potential game-winning layup for NMU with 24 seconds remaining and instead, watched Northwood’s Brooker Stoudmire hit the game-winning 3 for Northwood with 3.3 seconds left on the BEC clock.

“At stretches (Johnson) was really good and then down the stretch he missed some bunnies and that kind of hurt,” Lewis said. “And he gave up a big 3 at the end. It was inconsistent game for him, but he did play hard.”

Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mattwellens