HOUGHTON, Mich. – The Michigan Tech men's basketball team closed the regular season on Thursday night by securing an 85-80 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference victory against Northern Michigan in the SDC Wood Gym. The Huskies locked down the No. 4 seed in the upcoming GLIAC Tournament and will host a quarterfinal game against Wayne State Tuesday night.
"It was exactly what we thought, a grind it out, physical, and tough two possession game," Michigan Tech Head Coach Kevin Luke said. "Northern Michigan shot the ball and executed very well which made it tough to create separation. Credit goes to us for making our free throws down the stretch, getting the ball down inside, and making enough plays to get it done. I'm proud of the guys because we did what we had to do tonight and I was very happy with our composure down the stretch."
Thursday's game seesawed back and forth in the early portion of the first half with both teams getting a crack at the lead. Northern Michigan (8-18, 6-15 GLIAC) jumped on the board first when Brett Branstrom worked his way inside for a layup 19 seconds into the action. Junior A.J. Grazulis countered for Michigan Tech (15-13, 13-8 GLIAC) with a layup to register a 2-2 tie with 18:20 left in the first half.
With just under 17 minutes to go until the break, the Huskies went on top for the first time when sophomore Bryan Heath dialed in a triple to make it a 7-4 score. The Wildcats fought back with one of their 15 trey's in the game when Sam Taylor locked in on the basket from downtown to knot the score at 7-7.
Michigan Tech went on a 9-3 run during a three-minute span, resulting in a 16-10 edge. Grazulis notched the first two points on a layup followed by a three-point bucket from senior Jordan Chartier. Freshman Tommy Lucca chipped in two points in the paint and Heath banked in a shot off the glass to cap the burst with 13:28 on the clock.
The Wildcats came roaring back with 11 consecutive points, powered by a trio of treys. Taylor took credit for two of them and Ian Hodges finished off the scoring run with triple to make it 21-16 with just over 10 minutes remaining in the opening half. MTU regrouped by putting together a 9-0 run to surge back in front at 25-21 with 7:35 showing on the first half clock. Sophomore Kyle Monroe had seven of the points with Grazulis recording the other two. The Huskies would hold on to the lead for the rest of the half and enjoyed a 40-32 cushion when the buzzer sounded to end the first half.
Tech expanded the gap to 11 points at 50-39 on a jumper from Monroe with 16:21 to play in the second, which ended up being the largest lead of the night for either side. The Wildcats wouldn't let the Huskies out of their sights and chipped away at their deficit over the next couple of minutes. NMU eventually regained the edge at 53-52 on a Taylor three-pointer with six minutes gone by in the second half.
The separation between the clubs remained at two possessions the rest of the way as each side took turns in front. Lucca gave the Huskies a five-point lead again at 67-62 on two free throws with just over six minutes to go. However, each time NMU had an answer to keep Tech from pulling away. Isaiah Johnson drew the Wildcats to within one at 69-68 on another triple with 4:54 left to play in the final period. Fortunately, a layup and two free throws by Chartier built the lead back up to 73-68 for the Huskies just over a minute later.
The Wildcats drew even again 73-73 on a Marcus Matelski strike from behind the arc with 2:41 left. Once again though, Tech came through in the clutch to not let NMU overtake them. Monroe converted a conventional three-point play and Lucca drove to the basket for a layup to cap a quick 5-0 run and put the Huskies on top again at 78-73 with 1:45 left to play. NMU was unable to get any closer than two points in the final moments. Tech was able to keep them at arm's length with some solid free throw shooting. Chartier and Lucca combined for five free throws in the final 41 seconds to preserve the 85-80 win.
Six Michigan Tech players closed the night with double digit point totals, guided by Monroe with 19 points on 8 of 15 shooting from the field. He also grabbed six rebounds and had a couple of steals on the defensive end of the floor. Grazulis matched a season and career high with 16 points, going 7 for 9 each time he put the ball in the air. Chartier equaled Grazulis with 16 points of his own followed by Heath with 13 points. Lucca chipped in 11 points and Hawke provided 10 points off the bench to round out the double digit scorers. Chartier also hauled down six boards and led the team with two assists.
The Huskies were on target with 31 of 53 attempts from the field (58.5%), were 6 for 15 from three-point range (40.0%), and 17 of 18 at the free throw line (94.4%). Tech was the top free throw shooting team percentage wise in the GLIAC coming into Thursday's game. Tech out-rebounded Northern Michigan 29-23 and had 34 points in the paint.
The Wildcats were led by Naba Echols and Johnson who produced 21 points apiece. Taylor added 20 points with Myles Howard notching four points and a game high seven rebounds. Echols distributed six assists in Thursday night's game for NMU. The Wildcats hoisted in 30 of 58 shots from the field (51.7%), they were 15 of 30 from behind the arc (50.0%), and 5 of 7 at the charity stripe (71.5%).
Michigan Tech will tip-off the postseason on Tuesday night when they host Wayne State in the GLIAC Quarterfinals. The two teams split the season series with the road team getting the victory each time. The contest is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. in the SDC Wood Gym.