Bilski finds shooting touch, Heath reaches 1,000 points in Tech’s 72-46 win over PNW

Michigan Tech’s Dawson Bilski’s makes one of his six 3s from his team’s 72-46 win over Purdue Northwest Saturday at the Wood Gym. Bilski scored 18 points in his first start. (David Archambeau/Daily Mining Gazette)

HOUGHTON — Yes, there were setbacks. First, it was the broken nose in the preseason that led to an uncomfortable mask, then it was getting acquainted with the speed of college basketball. But still, it was only a matter of time for Dawson Bilski.

Because anyone who has watched Bilski play basketball over the last three years knew he was simply too good of a shooter to struggle this long, making just 13 of 49 attempts from 3 (26 percent). After all, he shot 49 percent from beyond the arc as a senior at North Central and was known as a 3-point marksman during North Central’s three state titles. 

But on Saturday, he finally looked comfortable, scoring 18 points while making six of his last nine 3s in Michigan Tech’s 72-46 win over Purdue Northwest (1-21, 1-13) at the Wood Gym.

“Wearing a mask, that sucked,” Bilski said, “And being a freshman coming in, I was obviously nervous and wasn’t really ready to play, but now I’m more comfortable and ready to play with these guys.”

With the injury status of Tommy Lucca unknown for the foreseeable future, Bilski’s production will be vital for Tech (12-9, 9-5) moving forward. Lucca went down with a knee injury in Thursday’s win over Grand Valley State. His absence played a role in Bilski earning his first start on Saturday, in addition to Tech coach Kevin Luke believing the move to the starting lineup could benefit Bilski. 

“A major factor in that was that he’s been a starter his whole life, and we thought it might make him comfortable coming in and shooting,” Luke said. “I think it worked well. Did we make a mistake in the past in not starting him? No, because we want him to progress where he feels comfortable and is productive, and I think he’s at that point.”

Along with the rest of the team (Tech shot 8-30 in the first half), it took time for Bilski to find a rhythm. He missed his first four 3s before making 6 of 9 to close the game. 

Bilski knocked down his second 3 from 23 feet out on the right wing before the first-half buzzer to tie the game at 23. 

“Coach Luke always tells me every day in practice to keep shooting the ball,” Bilski said. “So if you’re not hot, keep shooting until you get hot, which is exactly what I did tonight.”

It’s what the entire Huskies’ roster ended up doing. After struggling against Purdue Northwest’s 2-3 zone in the first half, Tech shot 19 of 31 (61 percent) in the second half on its way to outscoring the Pride 49-23. The Huskies were 9 of 16 from 3 after they made just 4 of 17 attempts from 3-point range in the opening half.

It was the same kind of open looks, but Luke believes the turnaround started with his team taking the 1-20 Pride more seriously. 

“I don’t feel like we were ready to play, mentally, at the start of the game,” Luke said. “This is a game that you need to respect, that you need to play hard from the tip. 

“We didn’t do anything different in the second half except for make shots.”

Tech junior Bryan Heath provided the sharpshooting threat on the other wing, converting 4 of 6 3s in the second half. His baseline jumper with 5:21 left in the game made him the 29th member of Tech’s 1,000-point club. Heath finished with 17 points. 

“I can’t describe it,” Heath said of what it felt like to reach 1,000 points. “I didn’t know what I could do in college, and now I scored 1,000 points. There’s nothing more I can ask for besides keeping it going and hopefully make a run to the NCAA tournament.

“I think when I get out of college, I’ll think back to different games and different moments, and I’ll remember what shot it was to get me to 1,000. That will be something I can remember.”

Heath managed to score over 2,000 points during his high school career at Rockridge High School in Taylor Ridge, Illinois. He is the second member from his recruiting class to reach the 1,000-point milestone; junior Kyle Monroe reached the mark last season and ended up with 20 points, 11 rebounds and six assists in Saturday’s win. 

Heath’s 17-point output means Tech is now 6-0 on the season when he scores at least 14 points. 

“Bryan’s been an awesome player here,” Luke said. “I hope he gets 2,000 because he deserves it and is a good kid. He’s had back-to-back good games now, and we need that moving forward for the balance of this offense and to help with the scoring load.”

Next, Tech will travel for its final road trip of the season, Thursday at Saginaw Valley State and Saturday at Northwood. 

– – – 

PNW 23 23 — 46

Tech 23 49 — 72

PNW — Howard 5, Johnson 23, Nunn 8, Brannon 3, Robertson 7. F: 9; Fouled out: None; Free throws: 7-11; 3-point field goals: Brannon. 

Tech — Monroe 20, Grazulis 2, Appleby 4, Bilski 18, Heath 17, Gordon 3, Bell 4, Schuller 4. F: 13; Fouled out: None; Free throws: 5-7; 3-point field goals: Bilski 6, Heath 5, Gordon, Monroe.