HOUGHTON, Mich. – The Michigan Tech men's basketball team held off rival Northern Michigan for a 77-66 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference victory Sunday afternoon in the SDC Gym. The win extended the Huskies' winning streak to three games and enabled them to split the regular season series with the Wildcats.
"I'm really happy for these guys and the program," Michigan Tech Head Coach Kevin Luke said. "We were clearly disappointed with the outcome in Marquette and we talked about how we could be better as a unit today and focused on us. This is a huge rivalry game and both teams played like it. We were fortunate to get a little bit of a lead in the first half and we knew they would make a run at us in the second half. I'm proud of our team for hanging on by staying within ourselves and executing down the stretch."
Michigan Tech (10-9, 7-5 GLIAC) established a foothold in the first three minutes of Sunday's game by sinking the first two buckets of the afternoon. Junior's Kyle Monroe and Bryan Heath both attacked the rim for layups to make it a 4-0 score. Northern Michigan (11-8, 8-4 GLIAC) countered to take what would be their only lead of the day with 14:21 left in the first half. Jordan Perez found the bottom of the net on a triple to make it a 10-9 score in the Wildcats favor.
Senior A.J. Grazulis and Heath then teamed up to spark a mini 7-0 run that pushed the Huskies back in front 16-10. Grazulis put back an offensive rebound for two points, Heath drained a trey, and Grazulis worked his way back into the paint where Monroe found him with a pass for an open layup with 12:20 left on the first half clock.
Meanwhile, Tech's defense continued to halt the Wildcats attack enabling the Huskies to construct a 15-point 27-12 advantage with 5:25 to go until the break. Northern Michigan managed to post just two points during that seven-minute span of the first half. Freshman Trent Bell gave the Huskies their 27th point with a successful free throw attempt.
Tech maintained a double digit separation with Northern Michigan until the final minute of the half when a Sam Taylor layup made the score 32-23 with 43 seconds on the clock. The point totals for both sides would remain the same going into the intermission.
Back to back triples by Taylor and Will Carius helped pull the Wildcats to within five at 36-31 in the early moments of the second half. Michigan Tech regrouped to build the lead back to 11 points at 45-34 a few minutes later when Monroe fed the ball inside for a Bell layup with 14:17 to go.
The Wildcats though used the next eight minutes to erase the Huskies advantage, tying the score at 54-54 on a three-point basket by Isaiah Johnson with 6:20 to play. Grazulis put the Huskies on top again with a free throw on the ensuing possession and a trey by Monroe bumped the lead back to four points at 58-54 with 5:20 remaining in the final period.
Although the Huskies would never relinquish the lead from that point forward, the Wildcats stayed within one to two possessions until the last 90 seconds. Leading 67-64, Heath came up with a huge layup followed by two free throws with 59 seconds to go, creating a crucial 71-64 gap. Free throws were the name of the game in the final minute for the Huskies. Monroe, senior Tanner Uren, and Lucca converted two apiece at the line to seal the win for Tech.
Monroe scored 31 points or more for the seventh time this season, notching a game high 31 in Sunday's victory. Monroe grabbed six rebounds and dished out a season high six assists in addition to his point total. Monroe scored a career high 41 points in the win over Davenport on Thursday in Sault Ste. Marie.
Grazulis followed Monroe by matching a season high 13 points while contributing a team best eight rebounds. Five of the rebounds were on the offensive end of the floor and a major contributing factor to 17 second chance points in the contest for Tech. Heath rounded out the double digit scorers with 10 points and five rebounds on Sunday.
The Huskies found the target on 27 of 56 shots from the field (48.2%), were 5 of 13 from behind the arc (38.5%), and 18 of 22 at the free throw line (81.8%). Tech recorded 32 points in the paint, had a 35-30 edge in rebounding, and turned the ball over just four times.
Johnson paced Northern Michigan with 18 points, Naba Echols tossed in 16 points, and Carius tacked on 11 points in the contest. Echols delivered five assists and Myles Howard ended the day with a team high eight rebounds. The Wildcats were limited to 21 makes out of 53 total shots attempts (39.6%), connected on 11 of 28 from three-point land (39.3%), and 13 of 17 opportunities at the free throw line (76.5%).
The Huskies are back in action at home on Thursday night when they host Grand Valley State University for a GLIAC game at the SDC. Tech topped the Lakers in the first meeting of the season 78-68 on December 7th in Grand Rapids. The tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.