Tech men call on Heller to fill role
HOUGHTON – Eventually, the Michigan Tech basketball team is going to run into a game in which they don’t score at will.
History says Austin Armga can’t average 67 percent shooting and 30 points per game for the season and the Huskies will cool off (though likely just a little) from their current 53 percent clip from three-point range.
And soon – perhaps starting today with Tech hosting Malone – opponents are going to shift heavy defensive focus onto Armga and Ben Stelzer and try to force someone else on the Tech roster to beat them.
So at some point in the near future, the Huskies are going to need Luke Heller to hit a jump shot or two.
The 6-foot-5 center plays a key role in the offense that coach Kevin Luke envisions.
He can distribute beautifully from the high post, sets a mean and physical screen to free shooters and has shown a knack for grabbing offensive rebounds.
But Heller, despite possessing a smooth stroke and flashing the ability every practice, is hesitant to shoot from the outside.
And an offense with four shooters is a heck of a lot easier to defend than one with five.
“He has a tremendous basketball I.Q. and he will involve everybody. But on occasion, he does need to be a scoring threat, so his man isn’t doubling on Austin in the post, so his man isn’t doubling on Ben coming off a screen,” Luke said. “So he clearly has to be a threat. during practice he can make 10 threes in a row but he doesn’t want to shoot one in the game. I can only lead you to the water, he has to drink. He has to believe that he can hit that shot.”
Heller averages just one shot attempt every 10 minutes played, with only Troy Hecht posting a lower number.
The sophomore has admitted that his game-confidence isn’t where he wants it to be right now when it comes to catching and shooting without hesitation.
“During the game, I’m not as confident as I would like to be right now,” Heller said. “But it is just about putting in the work and getting more and more comfortable with it and then being able to knock it down consistently in the game. you just have to keep the defense honest.”
On the flip side, backup sophomore Connor McLeod has no issues shooting, knocking down 63 percent of his shots to average six points per game.
But the Cedarville native lacks the mass and defensive savvy right now to bang 25 minutes a game with GLIAC post threats.
The Huskies will see a good one of those Saturday, with Walsh bringing a true 7-footer into town.
Heller (and likely some combination of James Wezensky and Quintan Harris) will have their hands full with Hrovoje Vucic, a 7-foot-1 native of Croatia averaging 14 points per game while shooting 65 percent.
Vucic scored 16 points last year on 8-of-10 shooting in an 84-75 win over Tech.
“We need to be tougher (than the opponent) inside there,” Luke said. “”And our big guys get that. They know it, they just have to execute it better.”
“You just have to be in position first,” Heller added. “You can’t let them pin you. And then its just about being physical as you can be. I do have some strength on some people, and I am just trying to use that as best I can.”