By BRIAN LESTER
For the Gazette
FINDLAY, Ohio - It's been a while since Michigan Tech has had an opportunity to play for the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament championship.
It was in 2005 to be exact, and for the first time in nine years, the Huskies got back to the title game after knocking off Malone 75-62 on Saturday afternoon in a semifinal battle at Croy Gymnasium.
The Huskies (22-6), owners of five championships, used a balanced attack and a stellar defensive effort to put away the Pioneers, who were playing in their first GLIAC tourney.
"This was big for our program," MTU head coach Kevin Luke said. "We haven't advanced this far in a while, and it feels good to have an opportunity to play for a championship."
Austin Armga and Ben Stelzer played pivotal roles in getting the Huskies into the title game.
Stelzer opened the game with two consecutive 3-pointers and would go on to score 21. Armga led all scorers with 26 points on a day when the Huskies shot 48.1 percent (25-of-52) from the field. Alex Culy added 10 points.
"It was important to get Stelzer and Armga going," Luke said. "We just ran simple things for them to set them up for shots and it worked. I thought we played well as a team."
But MU, which trailed 34-24 at halftime, has never been a team to back down when the odds are stacked against it, and the Pioneers made things interesting late as they pulled within nine with just over a minute left.
Isiah Elliott hit a jumper and a free throw to slice the MTU lead to 70-61 with 1:06 remaining in the game, and that prompted the Pioneers to begin applying more pressure as they attempted to force turnovers. Five free throws by the Huskies, including two apiece by Armga and Culy, helped ice the game.
"I'll tell you what, that team does not give up," Luke said. "We did just enough to stay above water and get the win."
Elliott finished with 22 points to pace MU, which shot 38.3 percent (23-of-60) from the field. But Elliott only scored five points in the first half and that was a key for the Huskies in their win.
"He is such a great basketball player, and he is so difficult to defend," Luke said. "You aren't always sure how to guard him, but we were able to do a good job in the first half and that helped us get a lead."
The Huskies made nine 3-pointers in the win and only turned the ball over five times. Vince Kazmierczak scored 11 points and was the only other player in double figures for the Pioneers.