SPRINGFIELD, Mo. - It has been a long time since Michigan Tech has been in the NCAA Division II Tournament.
But in their first NCAA tourney game since 2004, the Huskies made the most of the opportunity, dominating the second half of its Midwest Regional opener against Wisconsin-Parkside to earn an 86-75 win over the Rangers Saturday night at the O'Reilly Family Event Center.
"It is a big deal for our program and we are glad to still be playing," Michigan Tech head coach Kevin Luke said. "You never know how your team is going to respond, but we did a good job of handling the situation."
Michigan Tech, seeded fourth, trailed 42-40 at halftime but owned the final 20 minutes against the fifth-seeded Rangers, outscoring them 46-33.
Ahead 67-65 with 6:14 to go, Ben Stelzer, who went off for 25 points, drilled one of his six three-pointers on the night as the Huskies surged in front by five and never looked back.
Michigan Tech was efficient offensively throughout the night, shooting over 50 percent in both halves and connecting on 62.7 percent (32-of-51) of its shots overall. The Huskies made nine three-pointers.
As good as the Huskies were on the offensive end, Luke was quick to note that this win was anything but easy.
"It was a typical NCAA Tournament game," Luke said. "It was hard-fought and my hat goes off to Parkside for giving a great effort. We had some jitters early, but we eventually started playing better and I'm proud of my team."
Indeed, it did not look good early for the Huskies (21-8), who found themselves down 23-13 less than nine minutes into the game after Colt Grandstaff buried a three-pointer and scored on a layup.
But Michigan Tech has been in tough games before, tested often during the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference season, and it refused to throw in the towel even after Parkside seemed to stay a step ahead of the Huskies and went into halftime with a 42-40 advantage.
"We did play a little tight, but our guys didn't quit," Luke said. "We kept playing hard and I thought our defense really stepped up. We were fortunate to make plays."
Ali Haidar, the two-time GLIAC Player of the Year, paced Michigan Tech with 32 points and six rebounds. He shot 14-of-22 from the field and blocked three shots as the Rangers had a tough time defending him throughout the game. Austin Armga added 16 points and the Huskies scored 21 points off 13 turnovers by the Rangers (20-9).
Parkside shot 50.9 percent (29-of-57) from the floor overall but found it much tougher to get good shots off in the second half. Zygimantas Riauka scored 18 points and grabbed six rebounds for the Rangers while Andy Mazurczak pumped in 17 points. Grandstaff finished with 13 points and Conrad Krutwig added 12 points.
Michigan Tech beat Parkside 69-51 during the regular season.
"We have a lot of respect for their program," Luke said. "I don't remember too much from that first game but I know they have improved a lot since that game. I would like to think we have improved a lot, too, this season."
Luke said after his team was bounced from the semifinals of the GLIAC Tournament against the University of Findlay last Saturday, his team took advantage of the extra time rather than hang its head.
"The time off was good for us," Luke said. "We worked hard preparing for this game and it feels good that we got the win and that we get to play another one."