Huskies pluck Cards after half

HOUGHTON – After suffering a 70-59 defeat Thursday to GLIAC-leading Wayne State, a contest in which the Huskies actually performed well despite the 11-point loss, Michigan Tech was probably always going to look a little sluggish Saturday against Saginaw Valley State as it tried to shake the demoralizing loss.

Trailing by three at halftime to the Cardinals, it took 20 minutes for the Huskies to emerge from the fog of a three-game losing streak.

But when they finally did rediscover the offensive rhythm that had launched them on a seven-game winning streak earlier this year, the inside-out attack centered around the presence of senior forward Ali Haidar and a plethora of shooters completely overwhelmed Saginaw, leading to a comfortable 77-54 victory for Tech.

The Huskies poured in 50 points in the second half, knocked down 10 of 22 threes for the game, sank 29 of 32 free throws and collected 15 assists on 19 made field goals.

No matter what Saginaw (7-7, 5-6 GLIAC) tried defensively – which included a little gamesmanship technical foul for some rough play after the whistle – Tech (11-5, 8-4 GLIAC) just kept on scoring.

“That second half, that is how we were playing when we went on that winning streak,” Tech shooting guard Ben Stelzer, who literally left it all out on the floor after losing part of a tooth to an errant elbow in the first half, said. “It is good to have that sort of swagger back.”

Coach Kevin Luke was most relieved that the mental malaise in the first half didn’t carryover past intermission.

“I was nervous for where our minds were,” Luke said. “Because we didn’t play a perfect game Thursday, but we played a good game. And that can be tough to recover from, that was a tough loss. But I thought we were much more comfortable in the second half.”

Tech started the second period with a 12-0 run, fueled by eight points from Stelzer and four points (and a pair of assists) from Haidar.

That initial burst was all the Huskies needed to settle in, and the Cardinals never got closer than seven points the rest of the way. Haidar led all scorers with 25 points (7-of-10 shooting; 11-of-12 free throws) while Alex Culy tied his season high with 17 points and Stelzer chipped in 16.

“Haidar got a couple of our shooters involved, which was good,” Luke said. “Once we get to doing inside-out, we are fine. We got in a comfort zone in that half.”

With the offense humming along at an efficient level, some consistent defense from Tech helped create separation.

Starting for the first time this season, sophomore guard Troy Hecht locked down Saginaw leading scorer Chris Webb, holding the senior guard to 13 points on 4-of-18 shooting with three turnovers.

Hecht got the nod over senior T.J. Brown, who started Thursday in place of Austin Armga (ankle).

“I thought he did a (heck) of a job on Webb,” Luke said.

“We had a conversation pre-game in the office and both assistants (Josh Buettner and Terry Klemett) assured me he could do the job. And he did.”

With the Cardinals shooting 37 percent from the field – and only reaching the free throw line six times – the Huskies were given plenty of chances to redeem a sub-par rebounding effort Thursday against Wayne, a factor Luke pointed to in the loss.

Six different players got multiple boards for Tech with the Huskies winning the rebounding battle by five.

“The big, big thing was rebounding,” Stelzer said. “Almost every game we have won, we have had more rebounds. So we needed everyone to get down low. If you have four guys box out, but one doesn’t, it seems to magically find the open guy. So it needs to be five guys on five bodies and finding the ball.”

With Saginaw pressing and trapping late in the contest in an effort to speed up the tempo, Tech garnered 32 shots at the free throw line as the Huskies made liberal use of the double bonus.

“We have to grind, we have to get it to our tempo,” Luke said. “If we can do that, we can execute our stuff then.”