Michigan Tech men aim to build off 2-0 start

Michigan Tech’s Isaac Appleby goes up for a layup as Lewis’ Jake Reinhart defends, Sunday at the Wood Gym. (David Arcahmbeau/Daily Mining Gazette)

HOUGHTON — Two victories where Tech shot over 50 percent and averaged 84 points is about as perfect of a start to the season the men’s basketball team could ask for. 

If only the pesky injury bug didn’t rear its ugly head. 

Sophomore point guard Tommy Lucca, the GLIAC Freshman of the Year last season (15.7 points, 4.6 assists per game), sat out Sunday’s 87-80 win over the Lewis Flyers after scoring 14 points in 29 minutes in Saturday’s 82-57 victory over the UW-Parkside Rangers. His status is uncertain for Tech’s matchups in Moorhead against Southwest Minnesota State, tonight, and Minnesota State Moorhead on Saturday. 

“He’s still hurting. That’s the only update I have because that’s all I know,” Tech coach Kevin Luke said. “He’s been doing a ton of rehab. I’d tell you if I knew more, but I don’t know anything more.”

Lucca didn’t dress in Sunday’s game and appeared to walk with a limp. His absence allowed redshirt freshman Isaac Appleby to earn his first-career start, and the 6-foot-2 guard didn’t disappoint, finishing with 14 points and five assists while tallying an assist and knocking down a mid-range jumper for the game-clinching plays. 

Sitting and watching while he redshirted is obviously not the first choice for any competitive athlete, but Appleby believes the time to watch and absorb the game allowed him to properly grow and develop.

“Redshirting was tough, but it gives you perspective for sitting that long,” Appleby said. “Now getting back on the floor means a lot. It’s just fun to be back out there again.”

Last weekend was also the debut for the true freshmen duo of Dawson Bilski and Trent Bell. Both had quiet starts to their careers as Bell’s four points against UW-Parkside was the only points from the pair. Bilski was 0 of 3 from 3-point range versus Parkside and didn’t attempt a shot against Lewis in three minutes of action. 

“Dawson and Trent are really good players, but it was just a big adjustment for them the other day,” Luke said. “I believe that not too far from now when they understand and get themselves slowed down and their confidence, they’re going to be fine.

“Both guys were very nervous this past weekend, and rightfully so, with kids jumping from high school straight to college.”

The typically sharpshooting Bilski broke his nose in the preseason during a practice and has been forced to wear a mask since. 

“It hasn’t affected him in practice,” Luke said. “That’s hard for a kid without a mask to be good, but the mask clearly is a factor. This weekend, I think he’ll have a different mask — a form-fitted one.”

Now Tech prepares for two teams that defeated them last season at the Wood Gym. Southwest Minnesota State (1-2) earned a 73-69 win, while Moorhead (0-2) was victorious 90-82. But Tech didn’t have junior forward Kyle Monroe for either of those matchups as he nursed an ankle injury. This season, he’s healthy and it showed with his 32-point performance against Lewis and 18 points versus UW-Parkside. 

“Both of those teams are really good,” Luke said. “Both were in the national tournament last year, and I always say that these will prepare us for our conference games.

“Southwest has a lot of kids back on a team that had 28 wins, so they’ll be a little more disciplined and structured than Moorhead in our estimation, but Moorhead lost quite a few players, so we’ll see. (Moorhead) is very well-coached and have a strong NCAA-level program.”