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Michigan Tech (Men) 86. Bemidji State 59
November 21, 2012 - Michael Bleach
HOUGHTON — When Michigan Tech senior forward Ali Haidar is knocking down 3-pointers, he transforms from Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Player of the Year to flat-out unguardable at the Division II level.
The 6-foot-7, 240 pound Haidar drained a three from the wing on the first shot of the game for the Huskies Tuesday night — as his Bemidji State counterpart sat four feet off him — and proceeded to pour in 18 points over the opening eight minutes of play. He finished 4-of-5 total from beyond the arc, and a series of muscular drives, spin moves and midrange pull-ups accounted for the other nine field goals with the senior finishing one off his career high with 35 points (in 31 minutes of action) on 13-of-18 shooting. Haidar is now averaging 29.7 points per game through the first three contests this season.
The torrent of Haidar points helped fend off a pressuring Beaver defense, and the Huskies withstood an up-and-down initial 10 minutes before blowing out Bemidji 86-59 to improve to 2-1 on the season.
“I have always worked on expanding my game because I knew at some point, even overseas that I am going to need it,” Haidar said. “The coaches have done a great job teaching me when to take a shot and when not to and when to let a shot go for a better shot.
“When I shot the first three it felt good and then they just kept giving it to me so I just took what they gave me.”
Haidar was feeling it so much early that he sank two heat-check threes — which former Gonzaga star Adam Morrison patented in 2006 — on back-to-back possessions midway through the first half to push Tech’s lead to 10 points.
The second of said heat-checks came off the dribble with 27 seconds left on the shot clock. And Haidar backpedaled down court with his hand held high in an exaggerated follow through.
“I would probably be firing it up too if I had just made four in a row,” Tech guard Alex Culy said with a laugh.
From that point on, Bemidji — which is under the tutelage of first-year coach Mike Boschee — were more aggressive in doubling Haidar in the post and shading help when he received the ball on the wing.
This opened up opportunities for the rest of the Husky offense with the team connecting on 17 of 22 attempts (77 percent) in the first half and 8 of 11 threes. Even with expected regression in the second half, Tech still made half its field goal attempts and 62 percent total in the win.
“If they watched Saturday’s game (a loss to Minnesota Duluth) they didn’t need to double because we weren’t very good,” Luke said. “But in our gym especially, it is going to be hard for teams to double when we are hot like that. It is a big decision to either stop Haidar or stop the rest of us. That is a tough call when you shoot 10-for-17 (from three).”
“That was a blast,” Culy added. “It takes a lot of pressure off of us, it really does. Guys make shots because they are open with all the attention he demands.”
Culy in particular made it a tough call in the first half when the junior sank back-to-back threes to stretch the lead to 13 with eight minutes remaining the opening period. He had come into the game 2-of-17 from behind the arc after shooting 44 percent last season.
“It felt good just to get that first one to go down and not have to sit their and wait and wonder,” Culy said. “As poorly as I have shot the last couple games, it hasn’t been for lack of confidence. I think every one of them is going to go in, so when they don’t it’s just frustrating. So it was good to see a couple go down. It was a weight off my shoulders.”
The Huskies needed Haidar’s run of dominance as the on-ball pressure from the Beavers forced seven first-half steals and kept Bemidji within striking distance (13 points) at halftime.
Tech calmed down in the second half — opening with, what else, but a Haidar jumper — and a compact defense and hustle in transition limited Bemidji to 5-of-28 shooting in the second half.
Pick-and-roll defense in particular, kept Bemidji out of the paint as Tech guards slid under the screen each time, daring Beaver guards Dermaine Crockrell and Jason Edwards to shoot from deep.
They declined the challenge, and the forced runners in the lane kept clanking for 33 percent shooting overall.
“Our help side was better ... our vision was better,” Luke said. “We changed our defense (on ball screens) for this game where we just jammed it and went underneath.”
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