Tech women shut down NMU’s inside game in blowout win

David Archambeau/Daily Mining Gazette Michigan Tech’s Michelle LaFave, left, and Elizabeth Kelliher defend Northern Michigan’s Taylor Hodell Thursday at the Wood Gym.

HOUGHTON — Over and over again, the Northern Michigan Wildcats attempted to exploit the smaller Michigan Tech Huskies in the post. And each time — whether it was Elizabeth Kelliher, Michelle LaFave or Bella O’Brien — the Huskies stood tall and stifled NMU’s inside game by maintaining a high vertical plane. 

Tech tallied 10 blocks and held NMU to just 13 of 53 shooting (25 percent) to close the regular season with a dominating 72-37 GLIAC win over the Wildcats Thursday at the Wood Gym. 

Senior Morgan Anderson led the Huskies with 17 points, eight assists and six rebounds, while junior Brenna Heise also added 17 points for the winners. 

But it was Tech’s post defense from its frontcourt that enabled the blowout victory in front of 1,012 fans. 

“I thought those three were awesome,” Tech head coach Kim Cameron said of her sophomore frontcourt of Kelliher, LaFave and O’Brien. “Our job this game was to win 1-on-1s, and they took that to heart. Our vision, from them being on the post players, to everyone else guarding their own people, was as laser-focused as it’s ever been.”

LaFave and Kelliher each added 10 points to give the Huskies (19-7, 15-6) four in double figures. NMU senior Bre Gaspervich led the Wildcats with 14 points.

NMU (17-11, 12-9) featured a height advantage at nearly every position — including a 2 to 3 inch edge in the frontcourt, depending on who was out there. But NMU was only able to score three times on the block after receiving a post entrance pass. Sophomore 6-foot-4 center Taylor Hodell was 0 for 8 from the field, and 6-foot-3 freshman forward Jessica Schultz was 0 for 7. 

“We missed layup after layup,” NMU head coach Troy Mattson said. “We didn’t compete in the post on the offensive end. 

“There’s no reason for (Tech) to stop us inside, and they stopped us inside all night long. We have to make shots in there because that’s who we are, and we didn’t do it.”

NMU started 0 of 14 from the field and trailed 23-8 after the first quarter, while Tech shot 10 of 14 to start the game. The Wildcats missed three more shots to start the second before Gaspervich scored a driving left-handed layup with 8 minutes, 9 seconds left in the second quarter for her team’s first made basket. 

If there was a singular played that summed up NMU’s disjointed night, it came in the second quarter when Hoddell dribbled down on the block, picked up her dribble and briefly paused before resuming her dribble for an obvious violation.

“It was an embarrassing evening for us,” Mattson said. “We did not come to play. It was uncharacteristic of us. For 28 games, we played 27 great games and really played our butts off all year long. For some reason, we didn’t have anything in us.”

To offset NMU’s defensive length, Tech utilized dribble penetration and ran their perimeter players off screens to create separation. The Huskies shot 29 of 51 for the game (57 percent) — a stark contrast from the 21 of 58 shooting performance (36 percent) in NMU’s 66-55 win over Tech on Jan. 30 in Marquette. 

“That was the only choice we had,” Cameron said of using dribble penetration against NMU. “Last game, we just swung the ball around and took quick shots. I think we made it clear, early, and proved it to ourselves, that we could move the ball even if it was off an initial ball screen or something inside-out. That’s where we were going to get our open shots, and we did.”

Anderson had the biggest turnaround of any Tech player from the first matchup with NMU, when she scored just four points on 2 of 8 shooting. She opened Thursday’s game in an early rhythm, assisting to Kelliher on three layups to give Tech a quick 6-0 lead. 

“I think last time, I was forcing too many shots,” Anderson said. “I didn’t really let the game come to me. This game, we worked a lot better as a team and found each other when we were open.”

Mattson mentioned his team was never really in the game, and they weren’t. NMU trailed 15-2 as the game played out similar to last year’s meeting between the two rivals at the Wood Gym — an 80-38 Tech win.

The Wildcats trailed 39-15 at halftime and the closest NMU was able to trim the deficit was 18, after freshman Erin Honkala scored to cut Tech’s lead to 41-23 with 4:56 left in the third. 

From there, Tech answered with back-to-back 3s from Heise and junior Lindsay Winter to essentially seal the outcome. 

Now Tech will prepare for the GLIAC tournament. With the Ohio Dominican Panthers defeating the Lake Erie Storm 94-72 on Thursday, the Panthers secured the No. 5 seed. With Tech being the No. 4 seed, they will host ODU Tuesday at 5:30 p.m.

“It’s playoffs, so we know that we have to buckle down now,” Anderson said. 

Tech beat ODU 75-59 on Dec. 10 in Columbus. 

NMU 8 7 15 7 — 37

Tech 23 16 15 18 — 72

NMU — Honkala 6, Schultz 2, Gaspervich 14, Youngstrom 9, Weatherly 6. F: 15; Fouled out: None; Free throws: 9-12; 3-point field goals: Weatherly 2. 

Tech — Kelliher 10, Anderson 17, Guy 2, Winter 6, Heise 17, Botz 3, Jurmu 2, Hobson 5, LaFave 10. F: 15; Fouled out: None; Free throws: 8-9; 3-point field goals: Heise 3, Winter 2, Hobson.