Tech aims to finish season with some momentum

Michigan Tech’s Kyle Monroe shoots against Lake Superior State on Feb. 17 at the Wood Gym. Tech hosts Wayne State tonight and Davenport on Saturday. (David Archambeau/Daily Mining Gazette)

HOUGHTON — In an up and down season, the Michigan Tech Huskies are currently in one of their funks. Losers in three of their last four — all three losses came in overtime — Tech must turn it around this weekend if the team wants any sort of semblance of momentum heading into the GLIAC tournament.

That starts with hosting the Wayne State Warriors (14-9, 12-6) tonight at 7:30 p.m. and the Davenport Panthers (12-14, 6-12) on Saturday at 3 p.m.

One key for Tech will be how the team begins each game. Despite pushing the top two teams in the GLIAC North — Ferris State and Lake Superior State — to overtime, Tech did itself no favors falling behind by double digits in the first half of each loss.

“We just got to be ready. We’re going to miss shots, but when we get off to a good start, we’re pretty good for the rest of the game,” Tech coach Kevin Luke said. “You can’t take anything for granted. If you miss a couple, you gotta take a higher percentage shot to get yourself on track. Try to get to the free-throw line or get to the rim, stuff we try to stress. But you gotta do it and execute it.”

Wayne State is known for being one of the stronger, more physical teams in the league. Tech matched the Warriors’ level of toughness in a 76-66 win at Wayne State on Jan. 18.

“They are tough and physical, and if you don’t meet their levels, you get beat,” Luke said. “They know how to be physical and sustain it for 40 minutes.”

Part of the toughness that goes into beating Wayne State is maintaining system discipline throughout the course of a game. The Warriors attempt the third-lowest amount of shots per game in the league (57), meaning Tech will have to be prepared to defend over the course of all 30 seconds of the shot clock.

Defensively, Wayne State allows 67 points per game (second-best in the GLIAC) and is the top team in defending the 3 (31 percent). As for Tech, the Huskies are the best 3-point shooting team in the league (41 percent) with three players in the top five in 3-point percentage: senior Dillon Gordon (53 percent, first) and juniors Kyle Monroe (45 percent, fourth) and Bryan Heath (43 percent, fifth).

But with Wayne State’s ability to defend the 3, Tech may be forced to look inside. Both sophomore Ryan Schuller and senior A.J. Grazulis had their moments in the post this past week.

Schuller scored 10 first-half points against Ferris State, while Grazulis had 13 points in the loss to Lake Superior State.

“We always try, to a certain level, try to throw it inside,” Luke said. “I thought Schuller did really well Thursday night, and I thought A.J. did well Saturday. Not saying they’re not consistent, but if we can get that on a regular basis, we’d feel much more confident with our offense.”

Just like with any rematch Tech has with a GLIAC foe, the question is how teams adjust to defending Monroe after facing him the first time. Lately, the five-time GLIAC Player of the Week has been on a roll, averaging 34.3 points in his last four games, upping his season average to 27 points per game — second-best in the country.

In the first matchup against Wayne State, Monroe went off for 34. Versus Davenport, he scored a then-career-high 41 before he eventually recorded 50 in a double overtime loss to Saginaw Valley State on Feb. 8.

“As could anybody, they could look at doubling a little bit harder at Monroe,” Luke said. “(Wayne State) hasn’t doubled him in the past, but it’s something that any team could because he’s scored 30 against most of the teams. That’s something that we try to stay on top of.

“But as we’ve said all year long, Monroe’s a willing passer, and he’ll get it to you if you’re open.”

Tech has an outside chance at hosting a GLIAC quarterfinal game. The Huskies are currently tied for the fifth seed with Ashland (17-9, 10-8). Northern Michigan (14-11, 11-7) and Ashland would both need to lose for Tech, while the Huskies need to sweep their own games to secure the No. 4 seed.