HOUGHTON - The dilemma the Michigan Tech men's basketball team presents for opponents is simple to understand if complex to solve.
Who do you force to try and beat you, when any player on the floor is capable of doing so?
The Huskies kicked off the 2012-13 season Thursday night with a 75-67 win at Southwest Minnesota State, the preseason No. 14 team in the country. Tech got 32 points and 14 rebounds from senior forward Ali Haidar (unsurprising) and 22 points from sophomore Ben Stelzer (surprising to SMS) on six-of-nine shooting from three-point range. The Mustangs took a gamble, doubling down on Haidar on nearly every possession according to head coach Kevin Luke, and Stelzer made them pay.
The performance from the sophomore guard was all the more impressive as Stelzer had missed a week's worth of practice leading up to the game with a hip injury.
"He practiced last night and that was the first time in a week," Luke said in a phone interview with The Daily Mining Gazette Thursday night. "Man, he is a player, he is a gamer. His hip was aching but he battled through it. What an awesome job."
The Mustangs held a nine-point lead nine minutes into the contest, put a string of eight points from Stelzer trimmed the halftime deficit to a manageable 35-34.
Virtually the same thing occurred in the middle of the second half, with back-to-back Stelzer threes finally giving Tech the lead for good with five minutes to play.
"We got (our offense) to a good tempo where we were really getting a good shot every time down the floor," Luke said. "Ben's back-to-back threes really calmed us down.
"The last one was just a dagger. He shot faked, took one dribble and stepped back. Just a dagger."
Haidar saw treatment he will likely see all season long - a double team on each touch of the ball.
No matter, the burly 6-foot-7 forward either split the double team or passed around it and reestablished his position in the post to finish with 32 points on 13-of-19 shooting.
According to Luke, opposing coach Brad Bigler came up to Haidar after the game to pay his respects for such a dominating performance.
"They doubled him every time," Luke said. "You had to see it to believe it. He split the double one time and it was just phenomenal. It was something that our people had never seen before.
"He believes in his strength. They were just hanging on him and he still managed (32) points. It was unbelievable."
Thursday it was Stelzer's night. But with Alex Culy (1-for-7), Austin Armga (3-for-9) and Phil Romback (1-for-4) combining to shoot 5-for-20, Tech still has plenty of room for improvement offensively Saturday at Minnesota-Duluth.
Combined with the presence of Haidar, that is what makes the Huskies scary.
"That's the thing, I really don't think we shot that well," Luke said. "We missed a lot of good, open threes.
"We talked about that. This is the way the whole season is going to go. Just grind it out, win this way. It is OK if our guys can make plays like that and play with poise."