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Northern Michigan (men) 59, Tech 55
February 4, 2013 - Michael Bleach
MARQUETTE — Having beaten Northern Michigan four straight times — including a 109-point outburst two seasons ago — and with the Wildcats derailed by injuries leading to a 3-11 conference mark this year, Michigan Tech coach Kevin Luke was worried the intensity level for his team was not where it should be in the practices leading up to the road-rivalry game.
He was correct.
The Wildcats jumped out to a nine-point lead early Saturday and never let Ali Haidar get going to hold off the Huskies for a 59-55 win at the Berry Events Center.
The loss snapped a three-game winning streak for Tech and dropped them into a tie for third in the GLIAC North Division.
"I'm disappointed," Luke said. "Northern Michigan played in a rivalry game like it was a rivalry game and I don't think we did. That is my fault and that is our players fault.
"We have a tendency after we have won a couple in a row to think we are there — and we are not, obviously.
"It is just disappointing when you have a head of steam, and you are in it still for the conference and these games show what your character is, and I don't think ours was very good today."
That lack of readiness was most evident as Wildcats grabbed a 12-3 lead in the first four minutes of play with a pair of three-pointers and trio of layups as the Tech defense looked slow getting out to shooters.
Luke called a timeout to try and force some life into his team — never a good sign against your biggest rivals.
"If you have to call a timeout in this game to try and get energy up, you are in trouble," Luke said. "And that is what happened. They played like it was a rivalry game and we didn't It is that simple."
Northern's superior effort was most evident on defense, as the Wildcats spent most of the game doubling Haidar in the post and then chasing Husky three-point threats off the line from the ensuing kick outs.
The strategy — though hardly foreign to Tech — limited Haidar to 19 points (just nine shots in total) and left the Huskies with a 5-of-18 mark from three-point range.
Tech scored seven points over the final 9:35 of play, missing six distance-attempts over that stretch.
After Northern took a one-point lead with just less than two minutes to play, Alex Culy and Ben Stelzer both missed with clean looks from deep.
"The double-teams we are comfortable with, but you have to make shots because that is the only way to get it to stop," Luke said. "Or you get the ball on the block. Haidar wasn't tough enough mentally to get the ball on the block and play like we should have played. (Northern's) Matthew Craggs didn't have any problems with that."
Making matters worse, Tech failed to punish Northern for the scrambling defense with second-chance offensive rebounds.
The Huskies collected just one offensive board for the game — a stat all the more galling considering Northern's refusal to fast-break with a short bench drastically lowers the risk and constant double-teaming should leave someone unchecked.
"We harped the whole night, when they are doubling you (someone) should be able to go get that rebound," Luke said. "One (rebound) is unsatisfactory for us."
And where Haidar struggled — zero assists and one rebound in second half — Wildcats leading scorer Matthew Craggs excelled.
The 6-foot-6 junior collected 20 points (9-of-14) with little difference made by who was guarding him.
"He had it going today," Luke said. "We tried three or four different players on him, but when players get in that zone it is hard to stop."
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