Lakers successful in comeback victory over Wildcats

Photo Courtesy Sam Downs
Photo Courtesy Sam Downs

MARQUETTE, Mich. – Paced by juniors Akaemji Williams and Michael Nicholson, Lake Superior State men's basketball erased an 11-point halftime deficit to upend Northern Michigan 90-80 in Thursday evening's Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference North Division showdown.

Williams led the Lakers (10-4, 7-3 GLIAC) with a game-high 26 points , followed by Nicholson's fourth double-double of the season with 24 points and a game-high 11 rebounds. 

The Wildcats (5-10, 3-7 GLIAC) raced out to a 48-37 lead at the half and led by as much as 13 points with five minutes remaining in the opening frame with three starters reaching double digits in scoring. Isaiah Johnson led the way for NMU in the first half with 13 points and seven rebounds, followed by Marcus Matelski and Naba Echols each chipping in 12 points.

Williams led the Lakers through the first 20 minutes with 10 points as the team struggled to hit shots, making just 13-of-31 attempts from the field  (41.9 percent).

LSSU opened the second half on an 11-2 run to pull within two points of the Wildcats with 16:15 remaining in the half, causing NMU to take a 30-second timeout. Nicholson opened the half with a put-back dunk on a missed layup by Williams, followed by a layup through traffic by Williams on their next possession, in which he sank the free throw after drawing a foul.

Out of the timeout, the Brett Branstrom hit one of two free throws to put NMU back up by three but another dunk by Nicholson, assisted by Williams and a layup by Williams after a missed three by NMU gave the Lakers their first lead of the second half, 52-51 with 14:58 to play.

With 10:25 remaining Jordan Perez sunk a pair of free throws to put the Wildcats ahead 61-55, but again Nicholson willed the Lakers back with six-straight points to draw the Lakers within three with 8:25 remaining.

Sophomore guard Tim Cairnduff, seeing increased action in the season's second half, scored his first career points for the Lakers with a layup on a fastbreak to put the team ahead 65-64 with 6:40 remaining. LSSU would not relinquish the lead for the rest of the contest.

LSSU shot 56.7 percent (17-30) from the field in the second half, despite going 0-for-3 from behind the arc, and commanded the paint, outscoring NMU 30-2 inside during the final 20 minutes. LSSU outscored NMU 50-10 in the paint on the game and hit a season-low 3-of-9 shots from three-point range.

Sophomore Carson Manger scored was just the third LSSU player to reach double-digits in scoring, chipping in 10 points and adding eight rebounds. Senior center Michael Smutny contributed eight points in nine minutes off the bench.

Sophomore guard Naba Echols tied Perez for a team-high 22 points to lead the Wildcats, while Johsnon finished with 17 points and Matelski scored 12.

NMU received just two points from Kenton Mack and one made free throw from Branstrom as the Lakers' bench outscored the Wildcats' reserves 18-3.

LSSU enters Saturday's matchup at Michigan Tech tied with the Huskies (9-8, 7-3 GLIAC) and the winner of Thursday evening's matchup between Grand Valley State and Wayne State for second place in the GLIAC North Division. The Lakers and Huskies are set to square off at 3 p.m. Saturday.