Huskies ruined by second-half slide

MARQUETTE – The Michigan Tech women’s basketball team gave up 13 offensive rebounds and 33 free-throw attempts in the second half Saturday at Northern Michigan to blow a 12-point lead and lose 69-60 in Marquette for the first time since 2004.

Those two stats speak to the difference in aggressiveness and intensity exhibited by the two teams more than any other.

It was a rivalry game. And Northern wanted it more.

Plain and simple.

“It’s true,” Tech coach Kim Cameron, who declined to comment after the game until Sunday to ‘give herself a chance to cool off,’ said. “It’s sad that, that question is even asked, but we played passive, we played hesitant. We just didn’t get the production we needed out of anyone. It is sad to watch your team have that happen to them, especially after building a first-half lead.”

One possession early in the second half speaks volumes.

The Huskies (13-6, 11-4 GLIAC) enjoyed a 14-point lead with 15 minutes to go when Northern (11-8, 8-7 GLIAC) coach Troy Mattson called for a timeout. On the next trip down the court, Wildcat freshman forward Nea Makela got inside the lane and missed a layup. Her teammate Anna Liewen fought for the rebound and dished it back to Makela – who missed again.

No matter, Alyssa Colla was there for the offensive putback – except she too drew iron. Finally, Northern leading scorer Lauren Gruber grabbed yet another offensive board and put in a layup to go with it.

Four shots in one possession and the tone was set.

“It was like all the wheels fell off,” Cameron said.

“Rebounding is about heart, we have said that all year. We just didn’t have the will to get it done.”

Galvanized, Northern either worked the ball to Makela (12 points) in the post or utilized the penetration of Colla (22 points), Gruber (14 points) and Liewen (10 points) to earn 34 total trips to the free throw line, sinking 27.

The Wildcats attempted just six three-pointers for the game, as Tech failed to stymie the constant forays to the hoop. Northern scored 30 points in the paint – including 17 second-chance points – to go with the 27 made free throws.

Tech allowed 51 second half-points – tied for a season worst – after giving up just 18 points in the first half.

“It was everything,” Cameron said. “On one play it was the on-ball defender, on the next it was the help-side. A lot of it was we missed our sink-box out, that was the one responsible for most of the second-chance points. It seemed as though the fouls came from everywhere.”

After the Wildcats took the lead for good with five minutes to play, the Northern shooters hit their final 12 free throws of the game to keep the Huskies at bay.

“We shoot 100 free throws every practice, so I’m glad we made them at the end of the stretch there,” Gruber said.

While the Northern comeback was an impressive effort, Tech could have staved it off with a few timely baskets.

Instead, the Husky starters combined to shoot 24 percent over the final 20 minutes and just 29 percent for the game.

Seniors Sam Hoyt (3-of-12, fouled out) and Emma Veach (1-of-5) weren’t able to step up when needed and freshman Kylie Moxley failed to cope with the savvy defense of Makela.

In particular, with Makela over-playing Moxley’s right hand, the Tech offense lost its rhythm as their post presence struggled to win her one-on-one matchups, giving Northern guards freedom to stick close with Hoyt.

“We didn’t have anybody really step up. We needed someone besides Sam to step up and hit a shot to stop the bleeding,” Cameron said.

“That is something we have addressed and now teams are really starting to play her on the right side but she is still fighting to go to the right side,” Cameron added of Moxley. “She is young and really good going right, but she is learning the hard way they can take away that right.”

The Huskies might not have been in a position to blow the second-half lead if they had better taken advantage of Northern’s whopping 17 first-half turnovers.

Several fast-breaks went awry, however, and Tech struggle to finish at the hoop.

“We needed to convert more of those,” Cameron said. “We didn’t take advantage of their mistakes in the first half.”

The Huskies now trail Wayne State by one-half game in the GLIAC standings with seven games yet to play.

“We have to shake this one off quickly, that’s for sure,” Cameron said. “It doesn’t get easier from here.”