HOUGHTON - Like the big cedars that have made his home country of Lebanon famous in history, Ali Haidar stood tall for the Michigan Tech men's basketball team Saturday.
Haidar scored the first nine points for the Huskies and racked up career highs in both points (30) and rebounds (15) as Tech dominated rival Northern Michigan 77-54 to win its Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference opener.
Tech coach Kevin Luke challenged Haidar to raise his game after some uneven performances in non-conference play, and he did.
"He played like the old Ali Haidar and I hope we can keep that in his mind," Tech coach Kevin Luke said. "We needed a breakthrough game and this is it."
Haidar played a major role in a fast Tech start that kept the Wildcats from ever making a serious bid to win at the SDC Gym.
The Huskies jumped out to a 14-3 lead and at a timeout with 3:35 remaining in the first half, Haidar had as many points as NMU's team (18), with Tech holding a 13-point lead.
Luke said a key is getting the ball to Haidar early.
"If you get him going early, we're going to be a lot better off," he said.
Haidar said going inside is always the Huskies' plan, especially when the Wildcats chose to tightly guard the perimeter to prevent outside shots.
"They didn't want to give up the three from our shooters, so I was on single coverage," he said.
Haidar's opponents on the block, Jared Benson (6-foot-10), Derek Hussinger (6-11) and Rashano McRae (6-7), had no answer for him on either end of the floor, as they combined for more fouls (12) than points (four) or rebounds (seven).
"We couldn't control him. He got high-percentage shot after high-percentage shot and got our big fellas in foul trouble," NMU coach Doug Lewis said.
The junior also had a lot of help from post partner Mike Hojnacki, who gashed the Wildcats for 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting.
"Between the two of them, we got the results we need on a regular basis," Luke said.
The main bright spot for NMU early was the play of true freshman Haki Stampley, who scored 17 of the Wildcats' 21 first-half points. He hit an and-one with 2:35 left in the half to get NMU within 10 before Hojnacki poured in four late points to make it 35-21 at the break.
More Wildcats got involved in the second half, starting with senior DeAndre Taylor, who had 15 of his 17 points after the break, but the Wildcats never got closer than 11 the rest of the way.
"Stampley's a talented freshman, but my seniors have to step up and they didn't step up today," Lewis said.
Stampley, who didn't have a field goal in the second half, led NMU with 18 points.
The Wildcats (2-4, 0-1 GLIAC) finished 22 of 51 (43.1 percent) from the field.
Austin Armga added 13 for the Huskies (3-3, 1-0 GLIAC), who outrebounded NMU 38-22.
Haidar's 30-point night was the first for the Huskies since Robby Springborn on March 1, 2008, and was the first 15-rebound game since Fedrick Bowe did it to Finlandia on Nov. 29, 2008.
"Anybody on the team can have 30 every night, or 20 at least, so we have to find who that person is and get them the ball. Today, it was me and they got me the ball," Haidar said.
Luke was recognized before the game for his 300th win as Tech head coach, which came in the GLIAC Tournament at Grand Valley State on March 2.