Tech tops Wayne State for first OT win in 5 tries

Michigan Tech’s A.J. Grazulis shoots over Wayne State’s Chuck Key Thursday at the Wood Gym. Grazulis scored a career-high 19 points in Tech’s 81-78 overtime win. (David Archambeau/Daily Mining Gazette)

HOUGHTON — Kevin Luke didn’t even wait until Kyle Monroe was done answering a postgame interview question. Instead, the coach went over, mussed up his star player’s hair with a big ol’ smile on his face as he congratulated him. 

This is what it looks like when a team finally gets over the hump. 

Before Thursday, Tech went into overtime four times and lost each time this season. Twice against the top two teams in Ferris State and Lake Superior State. So when Tech went into overtime with the third-best team record-wise, Wayne State, at least some of the 883 in attendance had to be thinking, “Here we go again.”

But this time, Tech prevailed 81-78 over the Warriors. This time, it was more than just Monroe who stepped up. It was seniors Dillon Gordon, A.J. Grazulis and Tanner Uren taking their turns to make clutch plays down the stretch. This time, Tech was good enough to beat a conference elite. 

“This should inject some confidence that we can get it done when we’re tired in overtime,” Luke said. “I’m really happy for the guys.”

Monroe was Monroe with 29 points, but it was the contributions from the rest of his teammates that propelled Tech (14-12, 11-8) to win its first overtime game in five tries. 

Grazulis scored a career-high 19 points and had the game-tying putback in regulation. Isaac Appleby ran back on defense to block Wayne State’s Marcus Moore at the rim in the final seconds of regulation to send the game into overtime. Gordon swished a 3 to give Tech a 74-70 lead with 1:40 left in overtime. Uren stole the inbound pass to set up Bryan Heath’s two free throws for a 79-75 lead with 10 seconds remaining. 

“It’s huge for us to finally get one, especially at this time of year,” Monroe said. “It’s really great for our team’s morale. I don’t know if we could have taken our fourth overtime loss in the last five games. Just for us to finally come down the stretch and get one for our home court is huge.”

The victory was made sweeter given Wayne State’s identity. Ask any coach or player to describe the Warriors, and words like “tough” and “physical” are typically the first ones out of their mouths. And it wasn’t hard to see why Wayne State has that reputation. The Warriors’ guards pressured Tech all night, while the post players on each team pushed the limits on what they could get away with in the paint. 

“They’re definitely one of the toughest teams in the league,” Monroe said. “My last three years here, every single year, that’s what they’re predicated on. When you play them you know they’re going to be up in your grill and bringing whatever they have at you.”

Paired with overcoming the physicality of Wayne State (14-10, 12-7), Tech had to mentally persevere when it seemed as if the Warriors had every answer in the second half. From the 11-minute mark to 4:08 remaining, six times Tech scored only to have Wayne State answer on the following possession, whether it was against Tech’s man defense or 2-3 zone.

A tip-in by Marcus Moore answered a 3 from Gordon to give the Warriors a 63-56 lead with 4:08 remaining in regulation.

But from there, Tech held Wayne State to just 1 of 6 shooting down the stretch. The Warriors’ only basket was a difficult fadeaway jumper by Chuck Key for a 65-63 lead with 1:10 left. Grazulis’ putback would tie the game.

Ronald Booth led Wayne State with 24 points, while Key and Moore each finished with 18 points. 

“The only thing we said in the huddle was that we had to toughen up and not give up the second-chance opportunity,” Luke said of getting the stops late in the half. “That’s all we could do. I’m not saying it worked, but we went to a zone for a little bit just to see if we could knock their rhythm out because before that, they were clearly in a good rhythm offensively.”

Tech had a chance to win it in regulation, but Key knocked the ball out of Monroe’s hands at the top of the 3-point line, setting up a layup opportunity for Moore that Appleby would block.

Monroe would redeem himself by making two free throws and swishing a 3 to start overtime, giving Tech a 70-65 lead. 

“We came out strong in overtime, and it just seemed like the last couple times (in overtime), the other team got the jump on us,” Monroe said. “We just got it done tonight.”

Tech finished 27 of 59 from the field (46 percent) and held a 38-28 rebounding advantage. 

The Warriors shot 30 of 58 for the game (52 percent). 

Next, Tech hosts Davenport at 1 p.m. on Saturday. The men will play before the women.

– – – 

Wayne State 31 34 13 — 78

Tech 26 39 16 — 81

Wayne State — Key 18, Spencer 7, Booth 24, Moore 18, Davis 5, Murray 2, Mutebi 4. F: 22; Fouled out: Key, Spencer; Free throws: 15-23; 3-point field goals: Booth 2, Spencer. 

Tech — Monroe 29, Grazulis 19, Bilski 6, Heath 11, Gordon 7, Uren 3, Bell 4, Schuller 2. F: 15; Fouled out: None; Free throws: 19-26; 3-point field goals: Monroe 2, Bilski 2, Gordon 2, Heath, Uren.