HOUGHTON - When talent and tactics are on the level, collegiate basketball often comes down to energy and attitude. Basically, who wants it more?
Saturday against Hillsdale, coming off a double-digit win against perennial Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference powerhouse Findlay, Tech sophomore forward Phil Romback twice found himself in a 50-50 position in the battle for an offensive rebound. Twice, dramatically, Romback came away with the ball and fought through contact to finish at the hoop.
The tone was set. In a 73-55 win - improving the Huskies to 3-1 in the GLIAC - Tech drew more fouls, reached the free throw line more often and grabbed more offensive rebounds than a previously undefeated Chargers team.
Michigan Tech’s Phil Romback pulls down a first-half rebound over Hillsdale’s Brandon Pritzl during the first half Saturday at the SDC?Gym. (DMG photo by David Archambeau)
"When Phil got that (one-handed) offensive rebound and threw everybody off him, our team got jacked," junior guard Austin Armga said. "There is a thing in sports called momentum. You can't study it, you don't know what it is but we got it at that point and really took over the game."
The Huskies needed the aggressive edge because the perimeter shots were not falling in the first half. The Black and Gold started 1-of-7 from three and trailed 13-5 in the first six minutes.
A trio of driving layups from guard T.J. Brown and four trips to the free throw line from Armga jump-started the offense though, and combined with some lock-down defense, the Huskies held a 14-point halftime lead. Hillsdale scored just four points in the final 12 minutes of the half.
HILLSDALE (6-1, 3-1 GLIAC)
Tim Dezelski 2-5 2-2 7; Nick Washburn 8-17 0-0 17; Derek Schell 1-3 1-1 3; Darius Ware 2-6 0-2 5; Brandon Pritzl 2-9 0-0 6; Cody Smith 1-4 0-0 3; Tony Nelson 0-1 0-0 0; Lucas Grose 0-0 5-6 5; Ryan Choiniere 0-0 1-2 1; Kyle Cooper 1-1 1-1 3; Michael Furlong 1-1 0-0 3; Brandon Crane 0-0 0-0 0; Jason Pretzer 0-0 2-2 2; Totals 18-37 12-16 55.
MICHIGAN TECH (5-2, 3-1 GLIAC)
Phil Romback 2-5 2-3 6; Ali Haidar 5-12 4-4 13; Austin Armga 6-11 4-4 16; Alex Culy 3-5 2-2 10; Ben Stelzer 3-9 2-2 11; T.J. Brown 3-3 0-0 6; Jordan Chartier 2-3 2-2 8; Matt Esters 0-1 1-2 1; Connor McLeod 0-0 0-0 0; Troy Hecht 0-0 1-2 1; Luke Heller 0-0 0-0 0; Anthony Katona 0-1 0-0 0; Kyle Stankowski 0-1 0-0 0; Totals 24-51 18-21 73.
Halftime score: Tech 33, Hillsdale 19.
3-point field goals - HC 7-22 (Dezelski 1-3, Washburn 1-3, Schell 0-1, Ware 1-2, Pritzl 2-8, Smith 1-3, Nelson 0-1, Furlong 1-1); Tech 7-19 (Romback 0-3, Haidar 0-2, Armga 0-1, Culy 2-3, Stelzer 3-6, Chartier 2-3, Katona 0-1); Fouled out - none; Rebounds - HC 26 (Washburn and Pritzl 5), Tech 34 (Haidar 13); Assists - HC 11 (Dezelski 3), Tech 9 (three with 2); Total fouls - HC 18, Tech 13; Technical fouls - HC, Bench; Attendance - 1,155.
"T.J., when he scored those couple layups was the turning point to get us settled in," Tech coach Kevin Luke said. "He knew on the swing (pass) he could get to the rim and then one time he just took it on his own and that's huge.
"If we want it to be successful, that's the stuff you have to do. And those are plays that we should be good at because those are effort plays. Effort plays in a game like this go a long way when you have two mirrored, similar teams."
Armga was able to finish the first half with an exceptional buzzer-beating offensive rebound tip-in, and continued to attack in the second half, finishing with a team-high 16 points for the game.
With the Huskies getting plenty of looks at the hoop, 3-point threats Alex Culy and Ben Stelzer were able to find their range in the second half, combing for 5-of-9 three-pointers as the team went 7-for-19 in the game. Tech scored at an elite 1.23 points per possession.
"We came with the same motto (as Findlay), we have to strike first and we have to be the ones who go at them," Armga said. "Because that sets up everything else."
Hillsdale finished with 38 percent shooting, 14 turnovers and 0.92 points per possession.
Combined with the 49-point effort against Findlay, it was the best defensive effort Luke said he has seen his team put forth in a while.
"It is our communication, our effort, our experience, everything," Luke said. "If we continue to play like that we will be alright."