MARQUETTE, Mich. – The Michigan Tech men's basketball team came up just short at rival Northern Michigan University Saturday afternoon, falling 63-59 in a Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference contest in Marquette. The Huskies stormed back from a 13-point deficit in the second half to get within striking distance late, but unfortunately it's wasn't enough to overtake the Wildcats in the end.
"I thought both teams fought hard and it was an excellent GLIAC basketball game," Michigan Tech Head Coach Kevin Luke said. "Basically, what it boiled down to is their perimeter players made shots and our interior game struggled this afternoon based on our percentages. Our young players battled today and credit goes to Northern Michigan for coming out on top, but credit our team as well for playing tough all the way to the end. In defeat, we moved forward because this is a game that could have completely gotten away from us, considering Northern Michigan's senior leadership and veteran players. Once again, I'm proud of our guys that they didn't quit, competed hard, and are making a great effort in doing what we ask them to do."
Michigan Tech (9-9, 4-7 GLIAC) stormed out of the gate early with the hot hand, knocking down four triples in the opening four minutes of play. Sophomore Trent Bell dialed in three of the four with freshman Owen White cashing in the other. Northern Michigan (11-7, 6-5 GLIAC) posted five points in that stretch on a layup by Troy Summers followed by a three-point bucket courtesy of Sam Taylor. With all the points on the stat sheet, the Huskies held a 12-5 lead with 16:17 left to go in the first half.
The Wildcats then reeled off five straight points over the next couple of minute to close the gap to 12-10. Naba Echols secured all five, which eventually turned into a game high 23 points at the conclusion of the afternoon. Fortunately, the Huskies answered with a 10-0 scoring burst of their own to open up a 12-point gap at 22-10.
Sophomore Dawson Bilski sent home a triple followed by a two-point bucket from freshman Jake Witt. Bilski added a mid-range jumper and Bell found the target on his fourth three-point field goal of the first half to cap the run with 12 minutes on the clock. Unfortunately, the Wildcats were able to slow Tech's momentum and claw their way back into the game.
Trailing 24-13 after two free throws by senior Bryan Heath with 10:26 left in the half, Northern Michigan began the run on a triple out of the hand of Alec Fruin. Fruin's three points were the first of 16 consecutive for the Wildcats during a five-minute span. Isaiah Johnson wrapped up the string with a mid-range jumper at the 5:16 mark, giving the Wildcats a 29-24 edge. Northern Michigan eventually carried a 37-30 advantage into the locker room at halftime.
The Huskies regrouped at the break and notched the first five points of the second half on a trey by Bell and a jump shot in the paint by White, slicing the deficit to 37-35. It remained a one possession contest from there until four consecutive points by the Wildcats increased their lead to 42-37 with 15:33 to play. Northern Michigan kept the points coming while holding the Huskies' offense at bay. An Echols layup at the 11:15 mark gave the Wildcats their first double digit lead of the day at 48-37. It then grew to 53-40 on a Marcus Matelski triple with just under nine minutes remaining on the clock.
Michigan Tech stopped Northern Michigan's advance with a Bilski jumper and Heath three-pointer, closing the gap to 53-45 with 6:01 left to go in the second. The Wildcats lead fluctuated from eight to 11 points until the final two minutes of the contest. Trailing 60-49 following an Echols layup, sophomore Isaac Appleby kick started a 7-0 scoring run for the Huskies by cutting his way to the basket for a layup.
The defense then generated a couple of key stops and combined with a triple by White and a layup from Bell, Tech had climbed back to within four points of NMU at 60-56 with 40 seconds left. Unfortunately, the Wildcats made 3 of 4 chances at the free throw line to push their lead out to seven at 63-56 with less than 15 seconds remaining. Appleby knocked down a three-pointer on Tech's last possession, but not enough time was left to get the ball back for a chance to get any closer, resulting in the 63-59 final.
Bell powered the Huskies' attack with a career high 22 points and in addition paced the club in rebounds with nine Saturday afternoon. Bell connected on 8 of 10 shots from the field, including a 6 for 8 performance from behind the arc. Bell's previous career high in points was 15 at home against Tiffin on January 6, 2018. White followed with 10 points while Heath and Bilski chipped in nine points apiece. Appleby tacked on seven points and dished out a team best four assists.
As a team, the Huskies were 22 of 59 from the field (37.3%), 11 of 24 from three-point land (45.8%), and 4 for 4 at the charity stripe (100.0%). Tech's defense forced 10 turnovers which led to 12 points on the offensive end of the floor.
Echols had a game high 23 points to guide Northern Michigan followed by Taylor with 13 points. Echols also paced the team in assists while Myles Howard hauled down a game high 12 rebounds and blocked two shots. The Wildcats connected on 22 of 54 looks from the field (40.7%), were 8 of 18 from long distance (44.4%), and 11 of 15 at the free throw stripe (73.3%). Northern Michigan also had the edge in rebounding at 39-32 and points in the paint with 22.
The Huskies will look to bounce back Thursday night when they travel to Purdue Northwest to begin round two of the GLIAC schedule. Tech defeated the Pride 78-62 in the first meeting of the year between the two clubs on December 8 in Houghton. Thursday's tip-off is slated for 8 p.m. eastern time.