March Sadness at SDC
HOUGHTON – Similar to Wednesday’s Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament quarterfinal against Northwood, Michigan Tech men’s basketball coach Kevin Luke was left shaking his head without many answers at the conclusion of the Huskies’ semifinal with Findlay Saturday.
Unlike Wednesday though, Luke wasn’t smiling.
Tech coughed up the ball seven times in the first half and gave up six offensive rebounds on 13 total misses leading to 17 cheap points for the Oilers and a 31-19 halftime deficit.
And despite some Ben Stelzer second half heroics, the Huskies were never fully able to recover from the horrendous start, wasting home-court advantage and exiting the conference tournament with a 54-51 loss to Findlay.
“I don’t know why it was today,” Luke said. “It is clearly disappointing to lose in the Final Four at home. It was a tremendous disappointment.
“It drives you nuts. It is the stuff that you have worked on all season. I can’t explain it but that is what happens.”
“It was what has gotten us into trouble all year – turnovers and second chance points,” Stelzer added. “The second half we did a better job of that and gave ourselves a chance, but you dig yourself a hole too big to get out of.”
Stelzer poured in 14 second-half points on seven shots – including seven points on consecutive possessions with a rarely-seen four-point play – to drag Tech within one point of the Oilers.
After Findlay forward Brad Piehl (an 89-percent free-throw shooter) bricked the front end of a one-and-one, the Huskies were given one chance to erase the ugliness of the first half.
Some quick ball movement from a drive-and-kick gave Stelzer a lane to the hoop, and right as the sophomore dished to Ali Haidar for a wide-open layup, Stelzer collided with a Findlay defender camped out near the rim.
Haidar’s basket was erased and the senior forward’s game-tying three-pointer clanged long five seconds later to end Tech’s conference season.
“It is a tough call, it is one of those bang-bang plays,” Stelzer, who led Tech with 20 points, said. “Of course when he calls it against you, you feel like you didn’t have enough room to come to a jump stop. But I don’t know, I couldn’t see it from his point of view.”
In the first half, not only were the Huskies turning it over, they were doing so in bizarre fashion.
At least four times, passes into Haidar on the block were swatted away for a Findlay steal. In the 28th game of the season, Luke was at a loss to explain the inconsistency with one of the most basic tenets of the offense.
The 19 first-half points were the fewest Tech scored since the 53-50 loss at Saginaw Valley and it was the first time in seven games Haidar did not lead the Huskies in scoring.
Tech has yet to win a game this season scoring less than 64 points.
“Every time we score 50 or 51 we lose – and you should. Especially at home,” Luke said.