Drury maintains early lead, ousts Tech men
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Austin Armga did everything he could to give Michigan Tech a chance to survive this NCAA Division II Midwest Regional semifinal showdown against Drury Sunday night.
His jumper off the glass less than three minutes into the second half sliced the top-seeded Panthers’ lead to 10, but that sliver of hope faded quickly as Drury never allowed the fourth-seeded Huskies to close the gap any further in a 76-62 win here in front of 1,833 fans at the O’Reilly Family Event Center.
Armga finished his night with 21 points and also pulled down four rebounds, but the gutsy effort wasn’t enough against the Panthers, who rattled off their 19th consecutive victory and put an end to Michigan Tech’s first NCAA Tournament journey since 2004.
And while this season didn’t end as well as the Huskies (21-9) had hoped it would, Armga and his teammates are proud of what they accomplished.
“It was a fun run,” Armga said. “We had a lot of ups and downs this year, but when we look back it, it was a great ride. We’re happy we played in the NCAA Tournament and it’s never easy when a season comes to an end.”
This season came to an end because the No. 7 Panthers (27-4) were the better team on this night. Their shots fell consistently as they connected on 53.8 percent (28-of-52) of their attempts from the floor and their defense was good enough to keep the Huskies from putting together a run that could have given them an opportunity to win at the end.
Michigan Tech shot 41.5 percent (22-of-53) from the field and two-time Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Player of the Year Ali Haidar was the only other player in double figures.
He scored 13 points and grabbed six rebounds despite drawing four fouls.
“They played hard and they got on us early, and they had an advantage playing at home,” Michigan Tech head coach Kevin Luke said. “We couldn’t get enough stops or make enough shots. Our guys never quit, though, and that is something we can build on for next year. We can learn from this experience.”
Drury struck quickly, getting a couple of early three-pointers from Alex Hall, who lit up the scoreboard for 23 points while also grabbing eight rebounds and tallying three steals.
The Panthers attacked from the perimeter and in the paint and owned a 37-22 lead with 2:04 to play in the opening half. The Huskies trailed 41-28 at halftime.
“We got off to a great start and really locked down on defense,” Drury head coach Steve Hesser said. “I thought our big men did a good job on Haidar and we did a good job of moving the ball on offense to get good shots.”
One of the biggest issues for the Huskies was Haidar’s foul trouble. It put a damper on what Tech could do offensively.
“So much of our offense goes through him,” Luke said. “We looked lost at times and it was tough for us to run our offense. He is that important to us.”
The Huskies never got their deficit under double digits in the second half and the Panthers led by as many as 21, scoring with ease too often as they put the game out of reach.
Drake Patterson (11 points) and Brandon Lockhart (10) were the other two players in double figures for the Panthers, who never trailed. Lockhart dished out nine assists and Patterson hit three treys.
Before Luke got up from his press conference, he talked about how ready he was for next season. He also reflected on the season his team had just finished.
“Making the NCAA Tournament is awesome, but this is just the start for us in getting the program back to where we want it to be,” Luke said. “It’s never easy losing, but we are already excited about next year. We want the season to start now. I’m disappointed with the loss but I am proud of my team.”
Drury will play Bellarmine in Tuesday’s final.