HOUGHTON - Michigan Tech women's basketball guard Mackenzie Perttu employs a simple, rhythmic chant in her mind when she receives the ball at the free throw line.
"Toes and pose."
Over and over again.
Northern?Michigan?University sophomore Nea Makela puts up a shot on Monday against Michigan Tech in GLIAC play at MTU’s Student Development Complex in?Houghton. (Houghton Daily Mining Gazette photo by David Archambeau)
Her father, James, taught her the phrase when she was young. Get your balance right (end on the toes) and hold the follow-through (pose) and the muscle memory will take care of the rest.
James Perttu may be on to something.
Kenzie reached the free throw line 18 times Monday against Northern Michigan, knocking down 16, including seven of eight in the final 40 seconds, to ice a 71-65 GLIAC victory.
Perttu finished with a collegiate-high 30 points (6-of-13 shooting) and saw her free-throw rate rise north of 80 percent.
"Yup, 'toes and pose,'" Perttu said with a laugh. "I don't know. It's something my dad taught me. So I say that every time when I'm shooting and it just kind of sticks. I say it every practice and it sticks in the game."
Tech needed every free throw Perttu could give them as Northern (12-7 overall, 9-6 GLIAC) came to Houghton intent on an upset.
The Wildcats held a one-point lead at halftime and kept it a one-possession game for all but 12 seconds of the final five minutes.
Perttu, a sophomore, finished with 25 second-half points to keep NMU at bay while also keeping Tech (15-4 overall, 13-2 GLIAC) within one game of Wayne State for the GLIAC North Division lead.
"Kenzie is our go to person for a basket or a big play," said Tech guard Dani Blake, who finished with 21 points. "She has a lot of different weapons. She can shoot the three, she has that great first step, she has a pull-up. She can just do it all."
Perttu scored 16 points in the first nine minutes of the second half, slipping her way through traffic to finish from an array of angles around the rim.
She also knocked down a pair of threes when Northern defenders stepped back to give themselves space to prepare for the drive.
"She knows when we need her," Cameron said. "She has done a really good job recognizing that and we really needed her tonight.
"It probably wouldn't be so hard on her is she didn't wait so long," Cameron added, half-joking.
For much of the game, Wildcat top scorer Alyssa Colla looked poised to go shot for shot with Perttu.
Then Blake switched on to her.
Before Blake took responsibility for Colla at the 16:00 mark in the second half, the Northern junior has slashed and slid her way to 15 points on 7-of-11 shooting against smaller guard Paige Albi.
Blake immediately redirected Colla's influence with a blocked shot after a sublime backdoor cut and another rejection two minutes later.
With Blake hounding her, Colla would go on to make just two of her next 11 shots and turn the ball over four times.
"She is a really unique athlete for this league," Northern coach Troy Mattson said of Blake. "She is probably 6-foot-3 or 6-foot-4 with her length and it puts a lot of stress on you."
Blake, officially at 6-foot, would have started the game guarding Colla, but a game-time scratch of center Kylie Moxley - who tweaked her back in warm-ups - forced Cameron to scramble the assignments last minute.
"We thought we needed her length on (6-foot-1 senior Annie Rubendunst)," Cameron said. "But then it became clear we needed her on Colla too."
With Moxley out, Blake assumed center in the Huskies offense, and was put in a unusual position with Wildcat post players Nea Makela and Courtney Lemon defending her.
Blake took advantage.
The sophomore breached the 20-point barrier for the third time this season, repeatedly swooping in for layups over the not-so-fleet-of-foot Makela.
"That was actually really fun," Blake said of playing center. "I like using my quickness and length to blow by girls or shoot over them if they back off me."
In Moxley's absence, junior Emily Harrison helped protect the lead with two consecutive buckets in the final five minutes.