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Game Recap: Tech men defeat Saginaw Valley State 85-58

February 23, 2012 - Michael Bleach
Blogger Note: This is the same game recap that will appear in the newspaper and website Friday afternoon. As it was an important game with North Division title implications, however, I figured posting it early would be helpful to all interested parties.

HOUGHTON — The Michigan Tech men's basketball team entered Thursday needing two wins to capture the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference North Division for the first time since 2003. Saginaw Valley State, on the other hand, had been eliminated from contention for the GLIAC Tournament and was just playing out the string.

The difference was palatable.

Tech attacked from the first whistle, building a 22-10 lead in the opening eight minutes of play and knocking down four of their first seven 3-pointers. The Huskies picked up nine assists on their first 12 made field goals and finished with 17 helpers for the 85-58 win.

Saginaw Valley was credited with six total assists on the night.

"The way we came out today was awesome, just awesome," Tech sophomore guard Alex Culy said. "Anytime you have a chance like we do (for the North Division), you have to take advantage of it. Tonight we did."

After giving up 36 points to Ali Haidar back in January, the Cardinals doubled-down on the Tech big man early. So Haidar kicked the ball out, Culy swung it around and freshman guard Ben Stelzer hit a 3-pointer on the first possession of the game.

The same play occurred again, just two possessions later, with Culy knocking down the triple — he would finish with 14 points on 5-of-10 shooting — after a T.J. Brown dish. Forwards Mike Hojnacki and Phil Romback would soon follow with threes of their own, and that was the end of the Haidar double-teams.

The junior forward then poured in 25 points for the night (7-of-11 shooting and 10-for-10 from the free throw line) with 17 points coming in the second half.

"They were really focusing on getting him contained and that opened us up," Culy said. "We did a nice job of hitting shots, which opened up things for Ali later on."

Seven different players sank threes for Tech as the Huskies finished 11-for-24 from deep on the night.

With Hojnacki (40 percent from three) and Romback (30 percent) both strong shooting forwards, the Huskies will have four shooters on the floor no matter the rotation.

It is a pick-your-poison game that Tech delights in when the outside shots are dropping.

"That is part of what coach Luke and coach (Josh) Buettner are trying to do philosophically with the program," Culy said. "That is a credit to them that they have surrounded Ali with shooters to help us as a team get that victory."

"Seventeen assists on 28 made baskets is as good as it gets," Huskies coach Kevin Luke added. "We did a great job sharing the basketball tonight."

Defensively, the Huskies were able to keep the Cardinals at bay in the paint where they were so effective last time.

Slashing guards Chris Webb, Greg Foster and Brett Beland combined to go 7-for-31 with just 23 points between the trio.

The defensive discipline was most evident in the first half as the Cardinals reached the free throw line just four times despite constantly attacking the hoop.

"Our ball screen defense was probably the best of the year," Luke said. "We didn't give up middle penetration — except for that short stretch where they got some layups at the end of the first half — where would get hung up on the screen.

"There wasn't much to say at halftime except keep the pedal to the metal."

With the Cardinals clipped, Tech can look forward to a winner-take-all matchup with Northwood Saturday for the North Division title.

Tech won at Northwood 66-62 on Jan. 26. Since then, however, the Timberwolves have ripped off a eight game winning streak.

"They are clearly the hottest team in the league," Luke said. "We need to come out and we need to have that high level of energy no matter what happens."

"As coach just told us, 'you are not going to get in any quicker, you are not going to be any stronger,' it just comes down to running your stuff," Culy added. "We have to have that high level of focus.

"But you can't ask for anything more. I'm excited."



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