MARQUETTE, Mich. — When the Northern Michigan University men’s basketball team took the court at the Berry Event Center for the season's first game Tuesday night, the demons of last season officially were lifted.
All the struggles that came with the 2008-2009 campaign were forgotten.
In the Wildcats' home opener against the Northland College Lumberjacks, there seemed to be a new feel on the basketball court—one that goes way beyond a jump shot, bounce pass, or rebound.
From the tipoff, something was different about this squad that returns most of its players from last year. The hunger to improve as a team was in their eyes. Teammates were communicating to each other back and forth on the court.
A new season brings new hope.
On Tuesday, the Wildcats outplayed their opponent in every facet of the game. The final scoreboard read 81-42 in favor of the home team, and unlike last year’s home opener, the ‘Cats worked together on both sides of the floor.
Right out of the gates, the Wildcats have established a better chemistry on the floor, something last year’s team struggled with.
“We had no chemistry last year, we were in the psychology department,” head coach Dean Ellis said with a laugh.
“Our team chemistry is night and day for whatever reason. We are in the chemistry department to start this season, not in the psychology department, which is good.”
The Wildcats were led in scoring by Marc Renelique and Raymont McElroy with 22 points each. Both guards were able to drive to the hoop and also find isolation on the perimeter. Both worked well together to set up shots.
McElroy’s passing and court vision was exceptional. His effort on the court was shown by his game-high eight assists and four steals.
It also showed in Renelique’s ability to separate from defenders and drain five-of-seven three pointers.
McElroy was the spark plug Ellis was looking for at the point guard position.
After a slow start last season as a freshman, the NMU floor general showed the maturation on the court that a year of experience brings.
“Your point guard has to be a leader, and he is constantly working on that,” said Ellis.
“We are constantly working on that with him. He had a great week in practice, and Raymont was a great leader with the ball tonight.”
Wildcats center Jared Benson led the game in rebounds with six.
As a team, the Wildcats shot 65 percent from the field. Everyone on the roster for the Wildcats were able to get into the action, including senior walk-on Kyle Hawley, who was greeted late in the second half by solid fanfare when entering the game.
“Kyle is a classic walk-on,” said Ellis. “He is a senior and got in and made a block. We got out on the court, and it was good for everybody to get the experience in our first home game.”
NMU struggled in last season's first home game against Northland Baptist Bible College, despite the win. That team did not possess the level of team play displayed in this season's first win.
McElroy has noticed what a difference a year makes on the court and in his own game. His ball control, speed, and strength give him a distinct advantage at the Division II level.
The young guard is still looking to make every game a learning experience, while leaning on the senior leadership around him.
“Even though I am a leader and a captain, I look to them," said McElroy.
"I’m vocal, but when it comes down to the end of the day, we have five seniors that play major roles on this team."
McElroy added, “We are clicking at a different level as of now,” he added. “You can tell on this team there is a lot of chemistry. We are together in this. Already, we are using the post more. With Hawley, D’Agostino, Benson, and Murphy, we have a lot of depth.”
The Wildcats return to the court on Monday, Nov. 30, to take on Finlandia University.