Tech men finally get past S. Indiana
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Austin Armga was clutch in the moment.
With the pressure rising and the hope of surviving to see another day in the NCAA Division II Midwest Regional fading, the senior guard rose to the occasion and lifted the Huskies to a thrilling 75-70 victory over 14th-ranked University of Southern Indiana Saturday at the O’Reilly Center.
The score was tied at 63-63 with 3:15 to play after a 3-pointer in the corner by Lawrence Thomas, and that is when Armga took control.
He hit two big free throws to break the tie, nailed a jumper in the lane to give the Huskies a 67-66 lead and then knocked down two huge jumpers in the final minute, including one with the shot clock near zero that pushed MTU in front 73-68 with 22 seconds remaining.
His two free throws with eight seconds on the clock iced the game for the Huskies (23-7), who advanced to the semifinal round of the regional for the second consecutive season.
Armga led the Huskies in scoring as he torched the Screaming Eagles for 30 points.
“My teammates trust me to have the ball at the end of the game. It’s been that way all year,” Armga said. “Today, the double team didn’t come and I was able to finish, otherwise I’d be kicking it out to other guys to hit shots.”
On his last shot of the game, the shot that all but drove a dagger through the heart of the Screaming Eagles (25-6) as he got in the lane, Armga had an advantage in getting a good look at the basket as he was being defended by 5-foot-9 USI guard Lawrence Thomas. Armga is 6-3.
“They were closing down on me late in the first half, but in the second half, it was a lot more one-on-one,” Armga said. “I didn’t see a lot of double teams, it was go time, especially the last shot. I had the mismatch. He was considerably smaller than I was.”
Armga, the seventh-leading scorer in the nation, along with Ben Stelzer helped lead the way for the Huskies, who shot 45.8 percent (22-of-48) from the field and knocked down 10 of their 24 attempts from beyond the arc.
Stelzer hit four treys and scored 20 points. But others stepped up as well, such as Phil Romback, who scored nine points, including a huge trey in the second half that gave MTU a 61-52 lead.
Jason Hawke also stepped up, finishing with nine points. His layup with 1:32 remaining pushed the Huskies ahead 69-66.
“The story the whole year has been the scoring of Austin and Ben. Everyone knows those guys can score,” MTU coach Kevin Luke said. “I don’t want to say it’s a crapshoot as far as who else will score, but in a game like this, that is what puts you over the hump. You need guys who haven’t hit a lot of shots to step up.”
MTU entered this game as the tournament runner-up of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and was making its second consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament.
USI, champion of the Great Lakes Valley tournament, riding a six-game win streak, was knocked into a hole early by the Huskies, who opened the game by hitting four consecutive treys.
Stelzer nailed two treys while Armga and Alex Culy each hit one to give MTU a 12-4 advantage.
Stelzer’s 3-pointer with 8:14 to play put the Huskies in front 25-18 but the Screaming Eagles roared back and went in front 33-29 at halftime.
MTU seemed to have control in the second half when Armga hit a jumper to put the Huskies up 57-48 with 8:23 to play, but the Screaming Eagles refused to back down.
Down the stretch, a turnover, two missed 3-pointers and an inability to defend in crunch time proved fatal to USI, which had been 4-0 all-time against MTU.
“I’m very proud of the way our kids hung in there, played and executed and trusted in each other,” Luke said. “Southern Indiana is a very good team and was a handful. We feel fortunate to be advancing in the tournament.”