Armga catches fire, drops 38 on Mustangs
By Michael Bleach
HOUGHTON – It is an oft-repeated basketball truism that good offense beats good defense.
Friday night, Michigan Tech guard Austin Armga cemented that notion as fact.
The senior guard put on an offensive display rarely seen at any level of the game, pouring in 38 points on 15-of-18 shots to lead the Huskies to a breezy 86-64 win over Southwest Minnesota State.
Armga showed off his dynamic skill set in all areas, scoring multiple times from the post, dribble drives to the rim, pull-up midrange jumpers and transition layups.
Spins, fadeaways, up-and-unders, acrobatic layups, floaters, a kiss or two off the glass – name it, he scored it.
“Man, that was a lot of fun,” senior guard Alex Culy said. “I don’t even have words for that. That was just impressive, wasn’t it? It makes me feel better actually. Doing post defense drills against him in practice, I used to get down on myself because he would kill me – but there is no reason for that because no one else can guard him either.”
“When you are in the game and you find that zone, it is just you and the rim. It doesn’t matter if there is a seven foot guy in front of you, it is going to happen.” Armga added.
Armga hinted at the fireworks to come on the first possession of the game. With the shot clock running down, Armga found himself with the ball at the top of the key in a one-on-one position. A shake here, crossover there and the senior was pulling up a half-step inside the three-point line.
Thirty-four seconds of good defense and a pull-up 19-footer – most defenses consider that a win.
He finished the first half with 13 points – “only 13,” Tech coach Kevin Luke said with tongue firmly in cheek – before fully igniting in the second half with a 25-point clinic.
The Mustangs tried several different defenders (ranging from 6-foot-2 to 6-foot-6) and shaded all manner of help-defense his way.
Nothing worked. Nothing came remotely close to working.
“They put a smaller guy on me and I can do those spins, dips and doodles,” Armga said. “Then if they put a bigger guy on me like they did tonight I can step out a bit, reverse pivot and face him up, and then it is go time.”
Armga raised the Thanksgiving-thinned crowd to their feet midway through the second half with a 10-foot fadeaway (out of a spin move) over the outreached arms of a long, 6-foot-5 Joey Bartlett.
He added an and-one layup the next possession to give Tech a 57-38 lead.
Luke admitted that if the situation was reversed, and his team forced the type of shots Armga was taking (and draining), he would consider it good defense played.
“I think (Southwest Minnesota State) played well tonight, I really do. But that’s Austin. He hits shots that there is just no defense for,” Luke said.
Armga netted 29 in the season opening win over Duluth before the 38-point outburst Friday.
Even the gradation of Ali Haidar and the shots that become available with his departure cannot fully explain the zone Armga has found.
So how has he become this locked in, this early?
“I remind myself, I have it written down (in my locker), it is my last year playing basketball ever. This is it.” Armga said. “I have grown up since I was five years old playing basketball, and this is the end. So why not leave it all out there?”
Not that he needed it, but Armga’s performance came with plenty of help too from his fellow guards.
Junior Ben Stelzer finished with 20 points – all in the first half – as he bombed in five made-threes and ran his man-mark (Vinard Birch) silly across screens. Only foul trouble and Armga’s show kept Stelzer from adding to his total.
Culy also chipped in with four threes, a welcome relief for him after a quiet offensive performance against Duluth.
“The old-timers came to play tonight,” Culy joked about the trio of upperclass guards.