With Monroe riding hot hand, Tech men hit the road for GLIAC games

Michigan Tech’s Kyle Monroe shoots over Lewis’ Brandon McCombs (21) and Nick Norton (14) at the Wood Gym. (David Archambeau/Daily Mining Gazette)

HOUGHTON — Michigan Tech’s Kyle Monroe was always projected to be one of the top players in the GLIAC. But in eight games, he’s been one of the best in the nation. 

Monroe is third in the country in points per game (25.9) while shooting 54 percent overall and 49 percent from 3-point range. He’s always shown the ability to score, averaging 19 points as a freshman and 20 as a sophomore, but is doing it at his most efficient pace, yet.

To his teammates and coaches, his success so far is no surprise. 

“We know how talented he is offensively; we see it every day in practice,” Tech assistant coach Josh Buettner said. “He’s been scoring for us since the day he stepped on campus. 

“We know teams will start to throw two or three guys on him, just something to make someone else completely beat you.”

The Grand Valley State Lakers (3-5, 0-2 GLIAC) will attempt to stop Monroe and the Huskies (5-3, 2-0 GLIAC) tonight at 6 p.m. at the DeltaPlex Arena in Grand Rapids. Tech will then finish the road trip with its first-ever meeting at Purdue-Northwest (0-7, 0-2 GLIAC) on Saturday at 4 p.m.

Monroe is also near the top of the GLIAC in another category: minutes per game. His 35 minutes a night is just 0.4 behind Ashland’s Ben Haraway for tops in the league. That’s one stat the Tech staff wouldn’t mind seeing decrease as the season goes forward. 

“We try to (lower his minutes) every game,” Buettner said. “We get done and say that we have to rest him. It’s just hard. We’ve been getting him some rest in the first half, but in the second half, it’s just hard taking a kid like that out of the lineup.

“Hopefully we’ll do it. Right now, we’re just trying to rest him more in practice and take some of the beating off him. Hopefully, the recovery comes from that.”

Tech is also monitoring the recovery of sophomore point guard Tommy Lucca. The reigning GLIAC Freshman of the Year has missed the last seven games due to a knee injury. He had surgery on Friday, but there is still no timetable for his return. 

“We’re hoping sometime in the near future, at least after Christmas,” Buettner said of Lucca returning. “Hopefully he heals quick. Everybody’s body is different, so we’ll see what happens.”

In his place, redshirt freshman Isaac Appleby has averaged 10 points and three assists per game. Tech’s offense hasn’t suffered from a new point guard, as the team ranks fourth in the nation in turnovers per game (8.6) while leading the GLIAC. 

Appleby had his jumper working in an 87-70 win over Northwood on Saturday, finishing with 20 points on 6 of 9 shooting (3 of 3 from 3).

“Isaac’s jump shot was filthy,” Monroe said after the Northwood win. “The shimmy shake he does coming off the ball screen, he hits it a thousand times in practice … He really got to showcase it, and I was really happy for him.”

In addition to turnovers, Tech leads the GLIAC in free-throw (76 percent) and 3-point shooting (44 percent). But the Huskies are last in rebounds (30), which could pose a problem when facing GVSU — the top rebounding team in the league (41.4). GVSU’s Chris Pearl (6 rebounds) and Justin Greason (5) lead the Lakers on the boards.

“We’re just preaching that it has to be a collective effort,” Buettner said. “Greason is a horse down there. A.J. (Grazulis) and Ryan (Schuller) are going to have their hands full just trying to keep him somewhat boxed out. 

“It’ll be critical for the guards to help our bigs on the boards. Gotta be a team effort, and that’s the only way to look at it. They’re bigger and more athletic than us, so we have to do it as a team.”

Tech wraps up the trip against struggling Purdue-Northwest, who has been outscored on average 88-68 while shooting a league-worst 39 percent. Opponents have managed to convert shots at a 51 percent clip against the Pride, second-worst in the GLIAC.