HOUGHTON - Two stats jump off the page when comparing the Michigan Tech men's basketball team's five losses to its 11 wins this season.
First, in every loss, the Huskies have given up 70 points or more defensively with an average of 73.6 points allowed per game. In the 11 wins, an opponent has not cracked the 70-point mark one time, scoring just 55.5 points per game.
Second, four of the five Tech losses have come on the road this season, including a sweep by Ferris State and Grand Valley in the last road trip.
Michigan Tech’s Troy Hecht drives to the basket during Saturday’s game against Saginaw Valley State. Hecht will get the start in place of an injured Austin Armga again tonight when the Huskies play at Northwood. (DMG photo by David Archambeau)
All of which makes the focus pretty clear-cut for the Huskies playing at Northwood (68 points a contest) and Lake Superior State (70 ppg) Saturday.
"In three of those games, we just weren't ready to play," Tech coach Kevin Luke said. "So I don't know if the road makes it tougher to play. But we can't use that as an excuse. It is a different environment, but our style should give us a chance if we can just stick to our style."
As it was with Ferris and Grand Valley, Luke's ultimate focus in practice this week was slowing the game down to Tech's preferred speed (about 60 possessions per game).
After being picked to finish in the top half of the tough Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference North Division, Northwood struggled early this year with a 6-10 record and 5-7 mark in conference.
But the Timberwolves have enjoyed some success since the winter break, winning four of six with an average margin of victory of 16 points per game.
According to Luke, they have run away from GLIAC teams by forcing the tempo.
"That is how they have been getting separation in their games," Luke said. "They go on a run where they get three our four layups and dunks and they get going. It takes it from a three or four point game to a double-digit game.
"The only way they are going to speed us up is if we are not mentally ready."
Tech snapped a three-game losing streak with a 77-54 win over Saginaw Valley Saturday, and the lesson to be learned was very much the difference in the halves.
Scoring 27 in the first period, Luke believed his team got three-point heavy the wrong way, firing up 13 treys (making four) on the first open look rather than through the rhythm of an inside-out attack. In the second half, however, Tech rediscovered the precision from the seven-game winning streak, scoring 50 points with 6-of-9 shooting from three.
While you can recover from an undisciplined half at home, Luke believes a similar split on the road will prove too difficult.
"The only thing we emphasize is to make sure you get it inside to go outside," Luke said. "If we start getting too quick like we did (Saturday) in the first half where all we shoot is threes, we are dead. Just dead. So we put a little more emphasis on making sure there is an inside touch. So if we miss two shots in a row, it is like 'OK, go inside now.'"
That being said, Luke still wants Alex Culy (36 percent three), Ben Stelzer (41 percent) and Phil Romback (42 percent) to keep hunting shots once the ball comes out from Ali Haidar (24 points per game) in the post.
"We can shoot 50 threes if it goes inside-out," Luke said. "That is automatic. if Haidar passes 50 times and they are open, you have to take it. If it goes inside out, then you have to whap it. That is an automatic rule."
The starting four of Culy, Stelzer, Romback and Haidar will have even more pressure offensively with second-leading scorer Austin Armga (14 ppg) still sidelined with an ankle injury.
As he did on Saturday, sophomore Troy Hecht will take Armga's spot in the starting lineup.
"He defends really hard and he is so unselfish that he will keep the ball moving," Luke said. "And he will keep the board alive quite a bit as far as offensive rebounds."