Tech struggles late, hangs on to beat SVSU in GLIAC opener

Michigan Tech’s Kyle Monroe shoots a reverse layup past Saginaw Valley State’s James Toohey Thursday, at the Wood Gym. Monroe scored 29 points in Tech’s 75-67 win. (David Archambeau/Daily Mining Gazette)

HOUGHTON — Michigan Tech’s GLIAC opener against Saginaw Valley State had everything that goes into a loss.

The Huskies went 8 minutes, 34 seconds in the second half without a basket, shot 2 of 13 from the field over the final 13:03 and 9 of 16 from the free-throw line during that span. There was even Tech coach Kevin Luke slamming his hand down in frustration at the scores table.

And yet, the Huskies still persevered.

Tech junior forward Kyle Monroe led the way with 29 points and the Huskies topped the Cardinals 75-67 Thursday in front of a crowd of 989 at the Wood Gym.

“Honestly, we’re pretty lucky to come out with the win today,” Monroe said. “I thought the way we played, we didn’t deserve a win. But that’s one thing, with where these past years, we haven’t been able to (win) when we aren’t playing our best games … We’ve been losing games against teams we shouldn’t, and I thought this was a good way to start conference.”

Tech (4-3, 1-0 GLIAC) should have won this game going away. Instead, one of the Huskies’ worst stretches of the season allowed SVSU to slowly climb back into the game.

Tech senior Dillon Gordon swished a 3 for a 62-45 lead with 13:03 left in the second half and gave the Huskies all the momentum. But from there, Tech went 8:34 without scoring another basket and was 2 of 13 to the finish. Before that drought, the Huskies made 25 of 47 shot attempts (53 percent).

“We couldn’t even make a basket,” Luke said. “That’s brutal. We can’t do that.”

SVSU (2-5, 0-1 GLIAC) cut Tech’s lead to 70-65 after two free throws from sophomore Malik Garner. But still, it should never have gotten that close if Tech could have converted its own free throws.

The free-throw shooting woes may be the hardest to explain. Tech came into Thursday shooting 79 percent as a team. And Monroe had missed just three times at the line all season after going 26 of 29 (89 percent). But Monroe was 4 of 9 from the line Thursday, including 4 of 8 in the second half.

Before Tech senior Bryan Heath went 3 for 4 at the line in the final 20 seconds, Tech was just 6 of 12 on free throws from the 13-minute mark on.

“Goodness sakes … We missed a couple one-and-ones, we missed a lot of second free throws after we made the first one,” Luke said. “If you want to be a quality team and get better, you can’t do that.”

In an attempt to limit Tech’s 3-point shooting, the Cardinals played an in-your-face man defense that held Tech to just 4 of 10 attempts from 3. The Huskies came in averaging 22 shots from 3 per game while making 42 percent.

But the pressure on the perimeter allowed the 6-foot-5 Monroe to go to work in the post. SVSU attempted to use a smaller defender on him in the second half, and Monroe made use of his size advantage, scoring with ease on his first three post touches. He shot 12 of 21 (57 percent) for the game.

“Our coach does a great job,” Monroe said. “As soon as him or I see (a smaller defender on me), he gives me the freedom or he will call it out that we need to get me inside with the smaller guy on me.

“I feel like when we do that, our offense can click pretty well because it will either draw a double or it’s a pretty easy one-on-one matchup for me in the post. Both are great options for us.”

Once Monroe scored to make it 59-43, SVSU decided to put the 6-foot-6 Liam Evans in to defend Monroe, and it helped in holding Tech without a basket during the Huskies’ drought.

But Evans fouled out with 8:09 left, leaving smaller defenders for Monroe in the post once again. He made Tech’s final two baskets down the stretch, scoring each time in the paint and giving his team a 70-60 lead with 3:11 left.

“They were not going to let us shoot 3s, and that was known,” Luke said. “We talked about that, and we told them that they have to get it in. I think our guys did a good job finding Kyle, and Kyle made plays.”

Tech finished 27 of 50 from the field and was outrebounded 39-30. SVSU grabbed 15 offensive rebounds.

Next, Tech will host Northwood (2-4, 0-1 GLIAC) Saturday at 3 p.m.

– – –

SVSU 35 32 — 67

Tech 39 36 — 75

SVSU — Pung 9, Garner 11, Wells Jr. 6, Daniels 11, Hoskins 8, Lamonato 16, Evans 6. F: 23; Fouled out: Hoskins, Evans; Free throws: 16-22; Field goals: 22-59; 3-point field goals 7-25: Daniels 3, Garner 2, Wells Jr., Hoskins.

Tech — Monroe 29, Grazulis 8, Appleby 6, Uren 5, Heath 13, Gordon 7, Bilski 3, Schuller 4. F: 17; Fouled out: None; Free throws: 17-26; Field goals: 27-50; 3-point field goals: 4-10: Gordon, Heath, Monroe, Uren.