Tech men can clinch high seed

HOUGHTON – Suffering through the 59-55 Northern Michigan loss live a month ago was painful enough for Michigan Tech men’s basketball coach Kevin Luke.

Having to relive the defeat this week – over and over again on film – was more than enough to obliterate the good-will developed after the SportsCenter-worthy, last-second victory over Lake Superior State last Saturday.

The stakes are high no matter the opponent. A victory guarantees the Huskies the No. 2 seed in the GLIAC Tournament, the highest (potential) seeding for Tech since the 2002-03 season. And if Wayne State were to falter against a Lake Superior State squad fighting for its postseason lives, the Huskies would share in their first overall conference title since that magical ’03 run.

But it is Northern (said with a capital, distasteful ‘N’ around the SDC), a struggling team that has won just one out of their last 13 games – and that one was against Tech.

No matter the outside circumstances, Luke wants his team motivated by the simple base urge of defeating its chief rival.

“It is enough to wreck your week after watching that tape a couple of times,” Luke said. “And that is why I am a little uptight. It is just terrible watching that tape. I would like to have them really mad and charged up.”

“It is payback time,” Tech senior Ali Haidar added. “We need to bring the rivalry back the way it’s supposed to be.”

The Wildcats enjoyed success last time with relentless double-teaming of Haidar, limiting the senior to just nine shots (he averages 15 per game).

Tech failed in two separate ways to combat the aggressive approach.

First, shooters didn’t shoot. The Huskies made just 5-of-18 threes, many of them solid looks coming from inside-out action. The 55 points was the second-fewest all season for Tech and the Huskies have yet to win a game in which they score less than 64.

More importantly though, Haidar made it too easy for the Wildcat defenders, ceding ground down low and often catching the ball 15-feet-plus from the hoop. Parking himself on the block solves most of the problems in itself.

“If I get it on the block it is going to be harder for them to double and it is going to be easier for me to find people,” Haidar said. “So if I can get it on the block every single time we will have a good game.

“It is a battle of who wants it more.”

“If he gets it on the block, they will clearly leave one of our men open,” Luke added. “And if we can play out of it, the times we have done it, we have won. It is that simple.”

With multiple injuries to key players, the Wildcats offense has faltered for great stretches this season, averaging just 56 points per game in GLIAC play. No matter where you look, the numbers are ugly.

Northern shoots 41 percent from the floor, 33.6 percent from three and turns the ball over 14 times per game. Opponents have grabbed more offensive rebounds than them this season.

If Tech brings the requisite energy to start the contest, the Wildcats will have a hard time playing catch up.

“We came out flat and we didn’t treat it as a rivalry last time,” Haidar said. “They knew their season wasn’t going far so it was the biggest game of their season. We didn’t have the respect we needed for the rivalry. We don’t have to match their intensity, we have to take it to them.”

Northern has one double-digit point scorer in forward Matthew Craggs, and the junior impressed in February with 20 points on 9-of-14 shooting.

Luke would like renewed emphasis on the 6-foot-6 multi-threat this time around, to put it mildly.

“We didn’t defend a lick, and that is the part that is the biggest disappointment,” Luke said. “We just didn’t defend.”