HOUGHTON - Meeting with Finlandia for the seventh straight season, the Michigan Tech men's basketball team flashed explosive offense, stretches of wild inconsistency, gave eight freshmen their first official taste of college basketball ever and left the 312 fans in attendance with just as many questions as answers.
In other words, it was a typical preseason exhibition.
The final score read 100-51 in the Huskies' favor, but it takes some deeper digging to understand why head coach Kevin Luke was less than thrilled after the final whistle.
DMG photo by David Archambeau
Michigan Tech’s Jeff Gregory clashes under the basket with Finlandia’s Isaac Tucker during an exhibition game Wednesday at the SDC?Gym.
"I thought when we executed, we were OK," Luke said. "But I thought we got carried away way too fast, and too many times not doing our stuff. Whether it is missing a box out, or throwing it to (Finlandia) or not screening. When we played our game we got open shots and it was pretty, so obviously we know we are capable, but it has to be done more frequently."
After playing last season with 6-foot-8 Ali Haidar, 6-foot-7 Phil Romback and 6-foot-9 Kyle Stankowski as its trio of post players, Tech started with a noticeably shorter lineup Wednesday night, giving the starting nod to 6-foot-3 Troy Hecht at the '4' and 6-foot-6 sophomore Luke Heller at center.
While that was not the penciled starters this summer - Stankowski will be sidelined with an injured foot until around Christmas and Romback is sidelined indefinitely with an undisclosed injury - it is the reality Tech is dealing with for at least two months, with the other tall bodies short on experience.
Finlandia was able to take some advantage, grabbing eight offensive rebounds (and six in the first half) with Lions center Dominic Morrow posting 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting.
"We were counting on having Kyle and Phil, but we don't right now and that means we have to adjust," Tech senior Austin Armga said. "It just means we have to be tougher. Box out, actually find somebody and put a body on them. Haidar was a black hole last season (for rebounds), but he's gone and it's on us now."
With Haidar graduated and Romback and Stankowski sidelined, the Tech offense has transitioned from an inside-out attack of the last four years to what Armga called an "out and out" offense.
With the starters playing the better chunk of the minutes in the first half, the Husky guards showed the freedom to fire from deep much to their liking, opening the contest with a 17-2 lead and hitting 8-of-12 three-pointers in the first half (13-for-25) for the game.
Junior guard Ben Stelzer in particular shined, connecting on all seven of his field goal attempts and five triples.
Armga missed a couple of shots he normally hits (3-of-10) but earned eight free throws with his determined drives to the rim. That will be a necessity for Tech this season as Stelzer, Alex Culy and Jordan Chartier are more jump-shot oriented players.
"Everybody likes having more freedom," Armga said. "For me it is about staying aggressive, continuing to look for (driving) lanes."
New NCAA rules allow for freshmen to play in exhibition games this season without burning a redshirt year.
The coaching staff took advantage Wednesday night, giving true freshmen Jason Hawke (26 minutes), Dillon Gordon (13 minutes) and Quintan Harris (10 minutes) ample floor time.
After impressing all preseason, it has already been determined that Hawke (11 points, nine rebounds) will play this year, but the decision for Gordon and Harris is still very up in the air.
Harris enjoyed a strong debut with 13 points on 5-for-5 shooting, while Gordon flashed the shooting ability that made him a star at Ewen-Trout Creek, finishing with 11 points on 4-of-6 shots.
At 6-foot-8 and 260 pounds, Harris easily fills a more obvious need for the Huskies, while Gordon may struggle to crack a guard rotation that includes Culy, Stelzer, Armga and Chartier firmly ahead of him.
"We are going to have some chit-chats," Luke said. "We are not sure on either one of those kids."