HOUGHTON - Michigan Tech men's basketball coach Kevin Luke preaches one thing above all else when it comes to road games against GLIAC North Division opponents.
Control, control, control (the repetition Luke's) the tempo.
Today's opponent, Ferris State, wants to run. Saturday, Grand Valley State, also wants to get up and down.
Michigan Tech’s Ben Stelzer lets a shot go during Saturday’s home game against Ashland. The Huskies are at Ferris State and Grand Valley State this weekend. (DMG photo by David Archambeau)
For Tech to have success, that cannot happen. It was a mixed bag against the two athletic opponents last season, with the Huskies sweeping the Bulldogs (6-6, 5-3 GLIAC) in all three matchups but succumbing twice to the Lakers (9-3, 6-3 GLIAC).
"We can't get sped up," Luke said. "Especially on the road. If we get sped up we are dead. And Ferris State can do that."
A trio of experienced guards make that dictum easier for Tech to follow.
Alex Culy, Ben Stelzer and Austin Armga have put 120 starts between them and average just 4.7 turnovers in a combined 89 minutes per game. It will be their ability to control what pace the game is played at that will give one team a major advantage.
"We are not the most athletic team in the conference as you probably know," Stelzer said. "It is about forcing the game to be played at our tempo and Tech style. Just smart passes, nothing rushed."
If Tech can keep the game to a halfcourt format, Ferris State may not have enough offensive firepower to keep up with the efficient (1.12 points per possession) Huskies. As a team, Ferris shoots 42 percent (31 from three) opposed to Tech's 52 percent (36 from three).
The Bulldogs are led with 17.5 points per game by guard Kenny Brown, but the senior needs 15.4 shots to get there, averaging just 36 percent overall and 27 percent from three.
"He is a volume shooter," Luke said. "He is allowed to shoot as much as he wants. I'm not saying it in a bad way, but they don't think there is a bad shot for him. There is not an open look he hasn't liked in the three years he has been there he can shoot you in it or he can shoot you out of it."
Stelzer will draw Brown defensively, with Tech's T.J. Brown coming in off the bench in relief.
According to Stelzer, it isn't about preventing the Bulldogs' Brown from shooting but trying to make each shot just a little harder.
"You just have to get it in your mindset that all game you are going to be chasing him around," Stelzer said.
"You can maybe force him into a few shots that are harder than normal. Make him take a few extra dribbles, push him out a bit further. By the end of the game, his shots might be a bit shorter, his legs might start to give out on him if you are working hard all game."
Sophomore guard Drew Lehman (14.6 points per game) and offensive-glass attacking forward Daniel Sutherlin (12.1 points per game), also must be accounted for.
"You can't lose concentration on the rest of the guys because you don't want the volume shooter to go off," Luke said. "You need to stay with good, solid defensive principles and have (Brown's) man in a little less help."
In the GLIAC quarterfinals last season, Tech defeated Ferris for the third straight time, thanks to a school-record 26 rebounds from Ali Haidar.
With the Bulldogs grabbing 13 offensive rebounds per game, Haidar's emphasis is clear once again.
"We are on their calendar, I know that," Luke said after a three-game sweep last year. "And Haidar is especially, because he grabbed 26 rebounds against them."