Tech men stop Storm

HOUGHTON – When at its best, the Michigan Tech men’s basketball defense does not qualify as smothering, overly physical or aggressive. The Huskies don’t force excessive turnovers, they don’t enjoy an intimidating shot blocker and – outside of perhaps substitute T.J. Brown – there are no prototypical lock-down defenders to harass an opponent’s leading scorer.

No, Tech succeeds on defense by simply being plain-old annoying for 40 minutes. The help is where it should be on drives. The closeouts make threes uncomfortable. Phil Romback and Ali Haidar can bang with any posts in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Hands are active.

And if the 66-48 win over Lake Erie – the sixth straight victory for Tech – is any evidence, it simply wears on an opponent to have to deal with consistent, smart play protecting the hoop possession after possession.

The Storm (4-6, 1-5 GLIAC) gave the Huskies (9-2, 6-1 GLIAC) everything they could handle in the first half, trailing by just one to the hosts at intermission.

But Tech poured in even more energy on the defensive end after the break, and Lake Erie managed just five points in the first 14 minutes of the second half as Tech turned a one-point lead to an 18-point margin.

“Our defense tightened up and I just think it was a commitment from our guys in the locker room,” Luke said.

“We couldn’t stop them there for a stretch (in the first half) and we had to change something. I think our guys said that’s enough and they got a little bit tighter on everything.”

And while Tech dried up Lake Erie defensively, the Huskies tapped the well that is Ali Haidar for 24 points (10-of-14 shooting) and then iced the game with 21-of-24 free throw conversions, including a 12-of-12 mark from Ben Stelzer.

With Lake Erie focused on preventing Tech’s three-point shooters from taking over – the Huskies went 5-of-15 from behind the arc – Haidar was given space to set up inside and seal his man up the lane. Seven of Haidar’s 10 made field goals were assisted from the perimeter as the 6-foot-7, 240 pound senior often found himself facing the basket unguarded after a successfully-led entry pass.

“We are doing a nice job occupying perimeter players,” Luke said. “And when you occupy, he has really gotten good at getting that next pass. It’s swing, swing and then in to him for a layup. (Haidar) really doesn’t even have to make a move and that is what that offense is designed for.”

Romback ensured Haidar would continue to have room to operate, as the sophomore forward knocked down three triples and finished with 13 points.

“I have the best shooters in the country,” Haidar said. “That’s why teams are afraid to double me. As you saw, we moved the ball and I got wide-open layups.”

Austin Armga was able to chip in with his typical 14 points, while Stelzer finished with 12 despite not making a field goal. No matter what the Storm tried offensively or defensively, they couldn’t prevent Tech from gradually pushing the lead out early in the second half.

“You could feel the energy in the huddle a little bit and guys were saying ‘We have to get separation let’s get separation,'” Luke said. “And that is exactly what translated.”