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Huskies Come Up Empty in Home Opener

HOUGHTON, Mich. – The Michigan Tech men's basketball team fell to Southwest Minnesota State 73-69 in the 2016-17 home opener Friday night in the SDC Gymnasium. The Huskies dug themselves a hole with a slow start in the first half, but nearly stormed all the way back in the final 20 minutes. Unfortunately, they were unable to overcome a 17-point deficit at halftime.

"Clearly they say you can't win many games in the first half, but you can lose them and that's what I thought happened to us tonight," Michigan Tech Head Coach Kevin Luke said. "We didn't execute very well offensively or defensively in the first half. It's a process and I think we played hard in the second half and gave ourselves a chance, but couldn't quite get over the hump. We missed a couple of free throws and big plays down the stretch, but give credit to Southwest Minnesota State because they are a good club. They are experienced and did a nice job hitting their shots and free throws to close it out."

Southwest Minnesota State (4-0) came out of the gate strong and took the lead in the first 11 seconds of the game on a Turner Moen jumper. Carter Kirk followed with a couple of free throws and the Mustangs found themselves in front 4-0.

Michigan Tech (1-2) answered back with five straight points to pull in front with 17:58 on the first half clock. Freshman Tommy Lucca found the bottom of the net on a jumper and sophomore Bryan Heath connected from behind the arc to make it a 5-4 score. The Huskies then extended the advantage to 8-4 on a triple by Lucca at the 15:51 mark of the first half.

The Mustangs began to swing the momentum in their favor over the next few minutes, thanks to a 10-0 scoring burst. Michael Lee hit back to back three-point baskets to give SMSU a 10-8 lead and then with 12:07 to go in the half Kirk sank two free throws to cap the run. When the dust had settled, the Mustangs were up 14-8.

The Mustangs continued to create separation and vaulted ahead by as many as 18 points in the first half. A five-point swing for SMSU late in the first half on a conventional three-point play by KJ Davis and two free throws from Ryan Bruggeman gave the Mustangs a 38-19 lead with 1:28 on the clock. Tech got the next four points on a jumper by senior James Wezensky and two free throws out of the hand of Heath. However, Bruggeman would cash in the final two points of the half on a layup, making it a 40-23 advantage for SMSU at the break.

The Huskies began to mount their comeback in the first five minutes of the second period. Tech trimmed the deficit to single digits at 47-39 on a layup at the 15:13 make of the second frame. Just under two minutes later, Heath sank two free throws and it quickly became a two possession game at 49-44.

The Mustangs lead fluctuated between five and 11 points over the next few minutes of the final half. Trailing 61-53 with 7:36 to go, Lucca connected on a two-point jumper followed by two free throws from junior A.J. Grazulis. A Grazulis tip-in with 5:34 to play really made things interesting because at that point the Huskies were within two points at 61-59. The two teams traded baskets before Davis hit a clutch triple for SMSU with 4:01 on the clock. That extended the deficit back to five points at 66-61.

The Huskies would not go quietly with Grazulis answering with four straight points to bring it down to a 66-65 edge for SMSU with 2:16 on the second half clock. Unfortunately, each time it looked like Tech could pull in front, the Mustangs had a response. Bruggeman made a layup following the free throws by Grazulis only to see Lucca make it a one-point game again at 68-67. However, Kirk helped seal the win for SMSU on a layup and free throw with additional points from Taylor Schafer in the final minute of play.

Lucca ended the night with a game high 25 points on a 9 of 19 shooting night from the field. He hit three triples and grabbed six rebounds for Tech. Heath followed with 17 points and Grazulis chipped in with 13 points and a team high eight rebounds courtesy of a strong second half. As a team, the Huskies were 22 of 59 from the field (37.3%), 8 of 23 from three-point range (34.8%), and 17 of 24 at the free throw line (70.8%).

Kirk had 20 points for the Mustangs followed by a 12-point effort from Bruggeman and 10 points by Davis. Kirk also notched a double-double by grabbing a game high 13 rebounds to go along with three blocked shots. Shafer and Lee each had nine points off the bench and overall the Mustang bench outscored Tech's reserves 25-6. SMSU converted 25 of 53 total attempts from the field (47.2%).

The Huskies will look to bounce back on Saturday when they host Minnesota State-Moorehead at 6 p.m.