Lakers escape with a 69-67 victory over Northern Michigan

Photo Courtesy by Sam Downs
Photo Courtesy by Sam Downs
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SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. - Lake Superior State edged Upper Peninsula rivals Northern Michigan, 69-67, Thursday evening (Feb. 2) at Bud Cooper Gymnasium in a Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

The Lakers (12-7, 9-6 GLIAC) received the game-winning shot from junior guard Akaemji Williams with 1.3 seconds remaining on a dish from Josh Goldschmidt. The Wildcats (6-14, 4-11 GLIAC) tied the game with 16 seconds remaining on Naba Echols' free throw after slashing through the lane, making a layup and drawing the foul.

Williams' seven points inside of the final three minutes helped secure the victory for LSSU, while his matchup opponent, Echols, also scored seven points from 3:13 minutes remaining and an assist on Isaiah Johnson's three-pointer with 34 seconds remaining to trail the Lakers by one, 65-64.

Poor shooting in the first half plagued both teams as the Wildcats' stingy defense helped build an eight-point lead over the Lakers at the break. During the opening 20 minutes, the Wildcats shot 14-for-34 (41.2 percent) from the field, including hitting 7-of-20 (35.0 percent) shots from three-point range, while LSSU made just 12-of-34 (35.3 percent) attempts from the field and went 1-for-9 (11.1 percent) behind the arc. The Lakers also committed eight turnovers and had five total assists. NMU reversed those numbers with eight assists and five first-half turnovers.

Out of the break, both teams traded baskets until a layup by Johnson put the 'Cats ahead 44-35 with 15:35 remaining in regulation. The Lakers then tightened up defensively and went on an 8-0 run that included a pair of three's from Carson Manger, both assisted by Williams, and capped by a layup from Josh Goldschmidt, who went coast-to-coast after retrieving a defensive rebound on a missed three on the other end.  The Wildcats then called a timeout to slow the momentum.

Out of the timeout, Johnson hit the first NMU field goal in three minutes and nine seconds to put the Wildcats back ahead, 46-43. LSSU then responded with a pair of layups by Williams and a running jumper in the lane from Manger to cap a 6-0 run and claim a 49-46 lead with 9:31 remaining.

The Wildcats again tied the score at 55-55 with 5:44 remaining on a three by Sam Taylor and the teams again traded baskets until the final three minutes.

Williams led the Lakers and tied NMU's Taylor with a game-high 21 points. Inside, the Lakers also received a strong performance from junior center Michael Nicholson, using his size advantage over the smaller NMU lineup to rack up 16 points and marked a double-double with 11 rebounds. Nicholson also blocked four shots and made a timely steal with 6:22 remaining, leading to a basket on the other end to but the Lakers ahead by three.

LSSU shot 69.6 percent (16-23) in the second half and hit 2-of-4 three-pointers attempted, while NMU managed just 13-of-30 (43.3 percent) from the field and 3-for-8 (37.5 percent) from behind the arc. The Lakers also dominated the paint, outscoring NMU 46-24, and the bench outscored the Wildcats reserves, 15-0.

After ending a three-game losing streak on Monday with a 113-79 victory over Northwood, the Lakers have now won two in a row and head into Saturday's 3 p.m. ET matchup with Michigan Tech tied for third in the GLIAC North Division.