Huskies not fazed by festivities, Saginaw Valley
HOUGHTON – In Michigan Tech men’s basketball coach Kevin Luke’s 27 years of experience, Senior Day basketball can play one of two ways.
The pregame ceremony with parents – is combined with the Tech women’s team, so it happens before the men’s game and not after – can be a distraction, a disturbance in the typical pregame ritual.
Or it can work as a motivator, the surge that propels a team over the top.
With seniors the class and quality of Austin Armga and Alex Culy, was it even really a question?
Armga and Culy finished No. 1 and 2 on the team in scoring and No. 1 and 2 in rebounds Saturday, leading the Huskies to a 68-53 win over Saginaw Valley in the duo’s final regular season home game.
It was a performance that serves as an easy metaphor for the pair’s four years at Tech.
“You don’t go through anything like that in your whole basketball career,” Culy said. “It hit me a little bit more than I thought it was going to. But once you get in the game you just try and use that emotion and that energy to play hard, just do the things that we have always preached.”
“It is definitely not a part of my pregame,” Armga said with a chuckle. “Going out in front of all these fans who are standing up and clapping for you, man, that is a whirlwind of emotions. My mom (Barb) was hanging on my arm, and she is getting emotional. It was a lot to go through.”
Culy, who only averages five shots per game, scored five points in the first three minutes, hitting a pair of long-range jumpers sandwiched around an Armga pull-up.
Ben Stelzer, Kyle Stankowski and Jordan Chartier followed his lead, building a 19-6 lead in the first eight minutes of the game.
“You could just see Culy was full of energy, and that was so contagious, it just goes through the entire team,” Armga said. “Man, he was leading the team for sure.”
Armga, the GLIAC’s leading scorer at 23.3 points per game, took over from there, showing off his usual dizzying array of post moves and midrange shakes. He finished with 25 points on 9-of-17 shooting, as Saginaw made the gamble of single-covering him.
It was a gamble that failed.
“I don’t have to do to much when he is in that kind of mode,” Luke said.
“He can do whatever the (heck) he wants.”
Armga put a punctuation on the game in the first play of the second half, when the 6-foot-3 guard busted out a shimmy most people couldn’t conceive of, much less execute.
With a Cardinal defender on his back, Armga drove to the middle of the lane, faked a spin over his left shoulder before quickly pivoting back to a fadeaway in the center of the paint.
He cleared about five feet of space from any defender before swishing the short jumper.
“I don’t know what that was,” Armga said. “Coach told me at halftime to counter my moves, so I was like ‘if you want to see a counter, I’ll show you a counter.’ that one surprised me even.”
With Armga sailing and the Huskies picking up offensive rebounds (11) every third miss, a sterling defensive performance sealed the win for Tech.
The Huskies forced 18 turnovers (13 steals) and held Saginaw to 1-of-16 shooting from three-point range.
“We have been playing with that energy and that pop in our step,” Culy said.
“It is a game-changer when we can come out with that energy on defense.”
The victory puts Tech two games clear of Grand Valley, Hillsdale and Northwood for the coveted No. 4 spot in the GLIAC Tournament.
The magic number sits at three with four games to play to make sure that Armga and Culy get at least one more game in front of the home crowd.
“Every game right now is playing for a banner, playing for a championship,” Armga said.