Tech men make clutch plays to hold off resilient NMU 85-80

David Archambeau/Daily Mining Gazette Michigan Tech’s Kyle Monroe shoots over Northern Michigan’s Rod Johnson.

HOUGHTON — Sometimes you just need your best players to win you games down the stretch. 

So with the Michigan Tech Huskies and Northern Michigan Wildcats tied at 73, Tech went to sophomore Kyle Monroe — last season’s GLIAC Freshman of the Year and an All-GLIAC North Preseason selection — in the post. Monroe scored a 3-point play before converting a left-handed hook to give the Huskies the separation they needed in an eventual 85-80 win over NMU Thursday in front of 1,163 people at the Wood Gym. 

With the win, Tech will now host the Wayne State Warriors Tuesday in a GLIAC quarterfinal at 7:30 p.m at the Wood Gym.

Monroe finished with a game-high 19 points, while Marquette alum A.J. Grazulis and Tech senior Jordan Chartier each added 16 points for the Huskies (15-13, 13-8). 

“Monroe’s just a great player,” NMU head coach Bill Sall said. “In my opinion, he’s the best player in the conference.” 

Even with NMU’s bench yelling out, “Left! Left!” to get the Wildcats to take Monroe’s left hand away on the block, he was still able to get off his signature left hook to score in those key moments.

“It’s just been my go-to move all my life,” Monroe said. “That’s what I believe really allows me to change it a little bit here and there. If the defender thinks maybe that I’ll pull it back a little more or go a little farther down the lane, those little half-foot differences are what allows me to get what appears to be an open look for (the hook) almost every time, it seems.”

Given Tech’s ability to shoot from 3, Sall was content with not doubling Monroe late in the game at the risk of surrendering an open look from the perimeter. 

“I’m always nervous about the 3s when we play Tech,” Sall said. “They only made six 3s and you’re in trouble when they start making 12.”

With Grazulis’ strength and Monroe’s skill, Tech repeatedly fed the post throughout the night. The Huskies, who shot 31 of 53 (58 percent), held a 34-14 edge in points in the paint over the guard-orientated Wildcats. 

Grazulis was efficient with his opportunities, scoring on 7 of 9 shot attempts against the team he grew up watching. 

“If they were going to double us, we were going to kick it outside all night,” Grazulis said, “but they let us go 1-on-1, and we took advantage.”

With no postseason possibilities for NMU (8-18, 6-15), this season finale against their rival was essentially their championship game. And after trailing 40-32 at halftime, NMU put their pride on display and went on an 11-0 run to take a 53-52 lead over Tech after a 3 by freshman Sam Taylor with 14 minutes left in the second half. 

“I wasn’t particularly pleased with our effort in the first half. I thought we were lackadaisical, defensively,” Sall said. “I was proud of our effort and resiliency in the second half. But to spot Tech eight at home makes it tough.”

NMU shot 15 of 30 from 3, and it was timely 3s that kept them in it. Taylor’s 3 started what would be a back-and-forth affair over the final 14 minutes. After Tech regained the lead on a 3-point play from Chartier to make it 55-53, NMU would manage to stay within striking distance and tie the game on three more occasions. 

NMU freshman Marcus Matelski knocked down a 3 to tie the game at 73 before Monroe would score the go-ahead 3-point play.

“It was nerve-racking,” Tech head coach Kevin Luke said. “To our guys’ credit, they kept their composure.

“All that was said in the huddle down the stretch was that (we) needed to have an inside touch, or get it to the paint.”

Freshman Tommy Lucca went the length of the floor for a driving layup, making it 78-73 before NMU’s Isaiah Johnson swished a 3. 

Following Monroe’s left hook, which put Tech ahead 80-76, the Huskies never allowed NMU an opportunity to rally, as Chartier (4 for 4) and Lucca (2 for 2) were perfect at the free-throw line in the final minute. 

“It was exactly what we thought, a grind-it-out, tough, one or two-possession game,” Luke said. “Northern Michigan played really well… We did what we had to do tonight. It didn’t make any difference what the spread was, we did a nice job.”

Now Tech will prepare to host Wayne State, who they split with during the regular season. Each team won on the other’s home court; Tech was victorious 63-58 on Jan. 12, while Wayne State won decisively over Tech at the Wood Gym, 68-47, on Feb. 9.

NMU 32 48 — 80

Tech 40 45 — 85

NMU — Branstrom 4, Howard 4, Echols 21, Taylor 20, Johnson 21, Perez 2, Hodges 3, Matelski 5. F: 17; Fouled out: None; Free throws: 5-7; 3-point field goals: Taylor 5, Johnson 4, Echols 4, Hodges, Matelski. 

Tech — Monroe 19, Grazulis 16, Lucca 11, Chartier 16, Heath 13, Hawke 10. F: 10; Fouled out: None; Free throws: 17-18; 3-point field goals: Heath 2, Chartier 2, Lucca, Monroe.