Huskies travel to Wayne State for GLIAC quarterfinal contest
HOUGHTON — The GLIAC Player of the Year award will be decided later this season. It’s likely a two-person race between Ferris State’s Zach Hankins, who earned the honor last year and is having another stellar season (14.9 points, 9.4 rebounds, 3.3 blocks per game) and Michigan Tech’s Kyle Monroe.
It’s the old debate of whether the award should go to the best player on the conference winning team (Hankins), or the guy with the best stats in Monroe, who is second in the country in scoring at 27.5 points per game (51 percent shooting overall, 43 percent from 3-point range) while averaging 7.7 rebounds per contest. Monroe also managed to set the single-game GLIAC scoring record with 50 points against Saginaw Valley State, and unless he goes scoreless at Wayne State tonight at 7:30 p.m. in a GLIAC quarterfinal, he will set Tech’s single-season scoring record.
“I’d be crazy to say he shouldn’t be heavily considered,” Luke said of Monroe for Player of the Year honors. “Clearly a very special player. I do think he deserves it, but that’s being lucky enough to see him every day.”
If Tech is to make any noise in this GLIAC tournament, Monroe will have to continue to put up big numbers, just as he’s done in Tech’s two prior matchups against Wayne State. During the 77-66 win on Jan. 18 at Wayne State, Monroe had 34 points while making 9 of 17 shots and secured eight rebounds. Just last Thursday, Monroe led Tech with 29 points on 10 of 19 shooting in Tech’s 81-78 overtime victory.
And surprisingly, Monroe’s production hasn’t suffered from his heavy workload — he leads the GLIAC in minutes per game (36.4). In the last six games of the season, Monroe is averaging 34 points per game.
“I think anyone at this point of the season is tired,” Monroe said after a Feb. 17 overtime loss to Lake Superior State. “There’s no real excuse there. Every team has played 20-plus games. Just something we have to make sure we get through it and are fresh as possible come the tournament.”
During Tech’s last meeting versus Wayne State, the Huskies had key contributions from the three seniors: A.J. Grazuils, Dillon Gordon and Tanner Uren. Grazulis finished with a career-high 19 points, Gordon made a clutch 3 in overtime and Uren had a game-clinching steal in the final seconds of the game.
“We know what we have with our starters, and a lot of this will depend on how the three seniors play,” Luke said. “They’re the depth, (Gordon and Uren) are the substitutions and it’ll depend on how they play and how far they help us go.”
Wayne State has proven itself to be one of the top defensive teams in the league. The Warriors are second in points allowed per game (68.2) and are the best at defending the 3 (32 percent). Tech enters as the most efficient 3-point shooting team (41 percent).
But how far Tech advances in the tournament will be dictated on the defensive end, where Tech has struggled at times this year, finishing with the 10th-best GLIAC defense in terms of points allowed per game (75.8).
“We respect Wayne to the fullest. If we’re tough, we’ll give ourselves a chance,” Luke said. “We’re really good offensively. We need to be better defensively. Not counting on that changing right now, but at times, we’ve shown that we can defend. The toughness part will come in and how aggressive we want to be offensively will be a deciding factor.”
As of Monday, Luke had no update on the status of sophomore point guard Tommy Lucca, who has missed the last seven games with an injury.
“Right now, it’s not even been discussed,” Luke said of Lucca returning.