Overjoyed in overtime
HOUGHTON – Twenty minutes after the final buzzer had sounded on the Michigan Tech men’s basketball 90-80 overtime victory in the GLIAC quarterfinals over Northwood, Huskies coach Kevin Luke basically threw up his hands when asked to explain what just happened on the SDC home floor.
“This will be a short (interview) because I don’t have any answers for you tonight,” Luke joked. “None.”
It is easy to understand why.
A Jordan Chartier three (his first basket of the night) with less than 20 seconds remaining put the Huskies in overtime, Ben Stelzer took control in OT with a pump-fake-to-layup and three-pointer on consecutive possessions to give Tech a seven-point lead it would not relinquish, while Austin Armga dropped in 22 points with perfect 16-for-16 shooting from the free throw line and Ali Haidar put up a ho-hum 25 points, 11 rebounds and six assists – it is a lot to wrap the head around.
All the while, Timberwolves forward Wes Wilcox (28 points on 7-of-9 shooting, 11-of-14 free throws) almost single-handedly willed his team to victory with an absurd performance that had Northwood leading for much of the second half until Alex Culy found Chartier open in the corner with a drive-and-kick on Tech’s final possession of regulation.
“Chartier deserves credit because he is always one of the guys after practice shooting. That is how breaks are made, he deserved it,” Luke said.
“You don’t know who is going to step up, with our team it doesn’t matter,” Armga added. “One game it is Benny (Stelzer) and T.J. (Brown) winning it for us, another it is Jordan putting us into overtime. It is just our whole team coming together.”
To make the night even more wild for the Black and Gold faithful, information quickly spread around the gym before the women’s game tipped off that top-seeded Wayne State had lost to Lake Superior State – missing two shots on the final possession that would have won or tied the game – to grant the Huskies the privilege of hosting the GLIAC semifinals and finals this Saturday and Sunday. Just one more distraction for Tech to block out while on the floor.
“That composure going down the stretch was awesome, because it is a lot easier to be successful when your mind is right,” Luke said.
In the extra period, Stelzer shook off a missed three in the final minute of regulation – which would have given the Huskies a one-point lead – with a textbook pump-fake and drive to the hoop before finding space to swish a triple one possession later.
Tech sank all eight free throw attempts from there and 27 of 29 on the night to end Northwood’s season.
“One of the big differences in the I think is we are at home. It is just a comfort level,” Luke said. “Once we went to overtime, I said to (assistant coach Josh) Buettner, ‘We are going to win.’ we just filled with energy, you could feel it.”
In regulation, Wilcox very nearly turned the dream ending into a nightmare with a second half upon which One Shining Moment videos are based upon.
Wilcox drained two fadeaway threes in the final 10 minutes and splashed home a fallaway jumper with 1:10 to go to give the Timberwolves a two-point lead.
Northwood forward Darvin Ham left the door open for Chartier’s triple with a missed free throw, however.
“We couldn’t stop (Wilcox),” Luke said. “So all we said was ‘make him beat us over the top,’ and he (darn) near did. He is that good a player.”
After going against the grain in the regular season and single-covering Haidar in the post, Northwood mixed it up Wednesday night with mixed results. They doubled the big man early, but Haidar found cutters or three-point shooters for his six total assists.
The Timberwolves then threw a curveball at Tech in the second half, playing the majority of possessions out of a 2-3 zone.
While it stalled the Huskies initially, Luke inserted Armga near the free throw line where the junior guard was able to wreak havoc.
Armga dished out three assists and scored six straight points at one point to match Wilcox blow for blow.
“When we have timeouts and we get in the huddles, players are picking each other up,” Armga said. “Everybody is slapping thighs, saying ‘c’mon guys, we got this.’ It is just positive reinforcement.”
Armga shattered the Tech record for best free throw percentage in a single game with his 16-for-16 mark. The previous record had been 12-for-12, held by three different players.
“Everything zones out and I just see that rim. Then it is so routine, just muscle memory,” Armga said. “I’m trying not to think of anything.”