MARQUETTE - In a classic rivalry battle, the Michigan Tech men's basketball team defeated Northern Michigan 69-56 on Thursday at the Berry Events Center in Marquette.
Sitting at the bottom of the conference, the Wildcats' (5-21 overall, 4-18 in the GLIAC) season has come to an end, while the Huskies (20-6, 16-6) advance to the conference semifinals next week.
"We didn't play our best tonight and that has plenty to do with what Michigan Tech was like," NMU head coach Bill Sall said. "Kevin Luke is a very good coach and he had them well-prepared."
After tying at four points two minutes into the game, the Huskies scored nine unanswered points to build up a lead that maxed out at 15 points with two minutes remaining in the first half.
While the Wildcats entered halftime trailing 38-29, they refused to go down without a fight. The 'Cats went on a 14-3 run to begin the second half, taking a 43-41 lead over the Huskies with 13:31 remaining. The Wildcats' success was short-lived, though.
"We knew Northern was not going to go away, and they didn't," Tech head coach Kevin Luke said.
"They had all of the momentum and they were playing very well, and we just had to get them somewhat calmed down and try to get a stop and a basket. That's all we were preaching and, to our guys' credit, it worked out for us."
Tech regained its lead and was up 12 points again just seven minutes later which, according to Sall, was due to poor NMU possessions on the offensive end.
"We get a lead and we have to learn that they're not just going to fall over and quit," Sall said. "Basketball is the ability to perform at a high level for 40 minutes, and tonight we executed and did good things for periods of time but not a full 40."
The Huskies' lead remained in double figures through the remainder of the contest.
Tech senior Austin Armga led all players with 23 points on the night. Alex Culy and Ben Stelzer contributed 12 points apiece to the Huskies. Stelzer was just two points shy of reaching the 1,000th of his career.
"Stelzer has just been a great, great shooter for us all year long, and Armga has done a phenomenal job scoring," Luke said.
Sophomore Terry Nash had a team-high 13 points for the Wildcats, while juniors Justin Newell and Chavis Mattison scored 12 points each.
The Huskies were 18-22 for 81.8 percent in free throws, while the 'Cats were 5-9 for 55.6 percent. More than tripling NMU's bonus points, the impact for Tech was undeniable.
"I think right down the stretch, they had to foul a little bit," Luke said. "It was just a matter of getting to the basket and converting free throws."
Sall said the difference in fouls boiled down to Tech's ability to drive to the basket aggressively and relish the contact.
"We had a lot of takes to the basket where we backed away from the contact," Sall said. "When that happens, you're not going to get those calls."
While the Huskies have postseason to look forward to, the 'Cats reflect on their season with a new head coach and nearly an entirely new team.
"From my standpoint, it's been a tremendous year of growth," Sall said. "We're not close to being there yet, but I've certainly seen an incredible amount of signs that are good for the future."
Michigan Tech advances to the GLIAC quarterfinals next Wednesday in Houghton, and the Huskies enter with confidence after a 20-win regular season.
"This group deserves all the credit," Luke said. "Hopefully we can survive one more game."