HOUGHTON - The Michigan Tech men's basketball team basically dared Wayne State to beat them with threes Thursday night.
The Warriors happily obliged.
With the Tech defense packing the lane to stop dribble penetration against a set of athletic guards, the top team in the GLIAC drained 10 of 21 attempts from beyond the arc to create separation in a game of precious few (60) possessions.
Combined with seven offensive rebounds in the second half and a plus-8 turnover margin - along with the Huskies converting on just 4-of-14 three-pointers themselves - Wayne State pulled away from a dead-even halftime score to leave the Copper Country with a 70-59 win.
The victory put the Warriors two games clear of everyone in the conference and left the Huskies four games back in the loss column with their third straight league defeat.
"They made five of their first six (threes)," Tech coach Kevin Luke said. "And we knew that might happen. But, I think we broke down in the second half when we gave up four offensive rebounds for eight points. It is that simple. You can't give up seven offensive rebounds in a half. And two of those were for threes. That is the game.
Wayne State (11-2, 10-0 GLIAC)
Gerald Williams-Taylor 0-2 0-0 0; Ian Larkin 6-7 3-4 18; Chene Phillips 4-13 5-8 14; Cole Prophet 6-14 0-0 15; Mike Hollingsworth 2-7 4-5 8; Bryan Coleman 4-9 0-0 11; Jamar Ragland 1-3 2-2 4; Michael Martin 0-1 0-0 0; Totals 23-56 14-19 70.
Michigan Tech (10-5, 7-4 GLIAC)
Phil Romback 2-6 0-0 4; Ali Haidar 11-20 9-10 31; Alex Culy 3-6 0-1 7; T.J. Brown 2-4 0-0 4; Ben Stelzer 3-6 2-2 11; Jordan Chartier 0-2 0-0 0; Matt Esters 0-1 0-0 0; Troy Hecht 1-1 0-0 2; Totals 22-46 11-13 59.
Halftime score: WSU 30, Tech 30.
3-point goals - WSU 10-21 (Larkin 3-4, Phillips 1-3, Prophet 3-8, Hollingsworth 0-2, Coleman 3-4); Tech 4-14 (Romback 0-3, Haidar 0-2, Culy 1-3, Stelzer 3-6); Rebounds - WSU 31 (three with five), Tech 30 (Haidar 10); Assists - WSU 14 (Prophet 6), Tech 14 (Hecht 4); Fouled out - none; Total fouls - WSU 15, Tech 15; Technical fouls - none; Attendance - 1,197.
"This is tough, because we played our hearts out."
"In the second half we just didn't get it done," junior guard Alex Culy added.
While Wayne initially opened with a 23-14 lead, Tech was able to battle back behind 18 first-half points from Ali Haidar to keep the score tied 30-30 at intermission.
The Warriors' athleticism proved just enough of an advantage after the break, however, with six steals (12 total turnovers) resulting directly in 17 points, and the seven second-half offensive boards converted into 12 second-chance points.
With nine minutes to go, Wayne had opened a 12-point lead Tech was never able to successfully cut.
"I hate saying 'Oh we were trying, or they are athletic and big and tall,'" Culy said. "They just outworked us for those rebounds. We got a stop, they grabbed the offensive rebound and hit a three. Next possession, we got a stop, they got another rebound and scored. That was the difference in the game to me."
"While we didn't turn it over that much, the ones we did resulted in a lot of points, that is the bad thing," Luke added. "They just flat-out picked our guards. You just have to bend over and be stronger with the ball."
Even with Haidar going off for 31 points on 11-of-20 shooting, Tech couldn't find enough scoring from the rest of the team to disrupt Wayne's pressuring man-to-man defense.
"Man, we have been there before, they did it to (now assistant coach Josh) Buettner in '05," Luke said. "He scored 30, but they shut down the rest of the guys."
The absence of second-leading scorer Austin Armga loomed large, especially as his notable skills - attacking the rim and getting to the free throw line - could have nicely countered the pressure Warrior guards Chene Phillips, Mike Hollingsworth and Cole Prophet were able to apply.
"You take 14 points out of your lineup and that's tough but we can't use that as an excuse," Luke said.
With three losses in a row, Tech must bounce back quickly for Saginaw Valley Saturday to prevent a still-promising season from derailing irreparably.
Just minutes after the game, Luke was trying to psych himself up in preparation for Saginaw.
"They are going to follow me, so I have to be upbeat and I have to be positive because we have to get back on track for Saginaw," Luke said.