End of the line for Tech
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – There was very little head-hanging in the postgame press conference. Sure, Michigan Tech had just been bested 71-57 by top seed Drury in the NCAA Division II Midwest Regional Final, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort by the Huskies.
“We played good and they played just a smidgen better,” said coach Kevin Luke. “Credit goes to them.”
MTU was in position to stun the top-seeded Panthers in front of a raucous O’Reilly Family Event Center crowd, pulling to within 50-49 on a Jason Hawke 3-pointer with 7:46 to play. The Huskies rebounded a missed Panthers free throw and had a chance to take the lead, but Cameron Adams came up with a steal and Lonnie Boga drained a 3-pointer to take all the wind out of Tech’s sails.
That bucket started a 14-3 run that sent Drury, the defending national champion, on to the Elite Eight for the second year in a row.
“I don’t want to say we ran out of gas, because that’s an excuse,” said Luke. “That (steal) is when separation started. That’s a good play by them. We had good looks, we just didn’t make the shots.”
Michigan Tech (24-8) got off to a scorching start in the second half, getting 3-pointers by Alex Cully and Ben Stelzer and some great backdoor cuts to surge ahead 41-36 with 16:48 to play.
“We talked (at halftime) about how we’d been a little bit overplayed, so we got a couple of backdoors in a row and took what the defense was giving us,” said Stelzer, who scored a team-high 18 points. “The guys made good passes and good finishes.”
But after hitting their first five shots of the half, Drury (28-3) cranked up the defensive intensity and held the Huskies to just 6-for-23 shooting (.261) the rest of the night.
“In the second half we finally got more collective defensively,” said Drury coach Steve Hesser. “I thought our help defense and our rotations to get out to shooters when we got lost was very good. It might not have been the primary defender, but we got out there and they had to shoot over a hand.”
Senior Austin Armga scored 13 for Michigan Tech and joined Stelzer on the all-tournament team.
Drury was led by sophomore guard Kameron Bundy. The tourney’s Most Outstanding Player scored a game high 24 points and dished out six assists in 40 minutes on the floor. Adams finished with 18, while Drake Patterson scored 12. Drury finished the game 8-15 from the 3-point range after shooting 5-for-7 in the first half.
It was a tough end to an historic season for Michigan Tech basketball. The Huskies set a school record with 24 victories and advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history.
And there is hope on the horizon. They lose just two seniors – Armga and Culy – and stand to return three starters (Stelzer, Troy Hecht and Luke Heller) along with 10 other players who appeared in at least seven games.
“I’ve been with the program five years,” said Culy. “We were 9-18 that first year. I sat there and watched it all. We kept building and building. Going to 24 wins from 9 and getting to where we are now – somewhere our program has never been – I can’t even begin to describe what it feels like. We’re extremely proud of what we’ve done with this program and where it is right now. We know these guys are going to keep pushing and keep working to take it even farther. It’s in good hands.”