Tech men tantalized by GLIAC Tournament setbacks

HOUGHTON – The current group for the Michigan Tech men’s basketball team has notched quite a few accolades to its name.

The seniors and juniors have won two GLIAC North Division titles, qualified for the NCAA Tournament after an eight-year gap and hosted the GLIAC semifinals and finals last season.

Individually, Austin Armga, Ben Stelzer and Alex Culy can match awards with any group.

But there is one trophy missing from the mantle. One box left unchecked.

A conference tournament championship.

Tech swung and missed last season despite getting home court advantage, falling to Findlay 54-51 in the semifinal. The year before that, Hillsdale dispatched the Huskies in the semifinal. Go back three years, to the beginning with Armga and Culy, and it was Ferris State knocking out MTU.

Suffice to say, it is on their minds as they prepare for Malone today at Findlay.

“We have been to the semifinals the last four years,” Luke said. “And we have been knocked out of the semifinals the last three years. Boy it has been missing for a long time. That would be a nice feather in the cap. It has been a long time coming. It would be really, really nice to play in (the championship). It would be nice to even think about it.”

Coming off the emotion of a overtime win over Northwood last year, Tech came out flat against the Oilers, trailing by 12 at halftime.

With another emotional win, this time over Grand Valley Wednesday, Luke addressed the possibility of dj vu with his team.

“Last year we were sluggish as all get out. That will not happen this year. This team is too advanced mentally for that to happen,” Luke said.

In the Pioneers, the Huskies get a squad they beat 81-55 at the start of December.

Much has changed since then.

Malone got center Brian Stone back from injury then and first-team All-GLIAC guard Isiah Elliott was just recovering from a knee injury as well. The Pioneers knocked off No. 1 seed Lake Superior State 73-65 Wednesday, thanks to two outstanding performances from seniors Elliott and Daniel Wise.

“Clearly after 23 games we should be a bit better,” Luke said from the last time they saw Malone. “The bad news is they are really improved. They are playing a lot of seniors right now, and they are playing like seniors.”

Luke will set all-defensive team performer Alex Culy against Elliott, who averages 18.4 points and 4.6 assists per game as a versatile slasher.

Senior savvy against senior savvy.

“Alex is a really smart defender. He is our best chance,” Luke said.

With NCAA Division II basketball regional rankings, nothing makes Luke feel safe.

The math is hard to keep up with – for example, the Huskies actually dropped a spot last week after a win over Northern Michigan because the Wildcats’ poor record hurt Tech’s strength of schedule – and the variable of surprise conference tournament winners can throw everything out of whack.

Still, a win today over Malone in the GLIAC semifinals (at Findlay) and the Huskies, currently at No. 6 in the Midwest regional ranking, should be safe for the top-eight regardless of other outcomes.

A victory over the Pioneers would give Tech two wins over opponents with winning records since the rankings were last released, and No. 8 Lewis lost Friday in Great Lakes Valley Conference quarterfinal play.

“I would hope so, and that is a part of what we are playing for,” Luke said. “But we are playing for something else too, so we are going to take it half by half.”