Husky men return favor by winning at NMU, 71-52

MARQUETTE – This was no one-man operation this time around for the Michigan Tech men’s basketball team.

Less than a month ago, senior guard Ben Stelzer scored a career-high 37 points but Northern Michigan University still pulled out a 67-62 upset victory in Houghton.

On Thursday’s return visit to Marquette, Stelzer did lead all scorers with 20 points, but what he got this time was a lot of help as three teammates also reached double figures in Tech’s 71-52 victory.

That locked up the No. 2 seed in the upcoming GLIAC Tournament for the Huskies as they will host No. 7 Walsh at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the quarterfinals.

Michigan Tech enters postseason play with a 19-7 record and 16-6 mark in the GLIAC. MTU beat out Ferris State and Saginaw Valley State in the tiebreaker for the No. 2 spot.

It leaves the distinct possibility of the Huskies hosting the tourney semifinals and finals, only needing No. 1 Lake Superior State to be upset in its quarterfinal game.

NMU, meanwhile, was looking for its 10th win Thursday in the second year of rebuilding under head coach Bill Sall.

Instead, the Wildcats finish at 9-19 overall and 7-15 in the GLIAC. That’s still three more conference wins and four more overall than in 2013-14 when Sall came in to coach late in the offseason after most recruiting had already taken place.

Though Northern finished last in the GLIAC North Division for the fifth straight year, NMU had a better record than three South Division teams this season.

Since the Wildcats’ upset in Houghton on Feb. 2, these teams have been going in opposite directions.

Tech has won six of seven, the only loss coming to LSSU, while Northern has gone 1-6 in that same period with its lone win coming at Ferris State, Sall’s former team.

On Thursday, MTU showed that the freshmen-laden Wildcats still have a thing or two to learn, especially with junior guard Terry Nash and freshman guard Jordan Perez out with injuries.

“With Michigan Tech, you have to pick your poison,” Sall said. “Compared to the first time when we played them, we didn’t score as well.

“They have a lot of weapons. We defended all right some of the time.”

“We knew we’d get a hard-fought game from Northern,” Tech coach Kevin Luke said. “I think things would have gone differently if they had been healthy.”

The Huskies raced out to a 15-4 lead barely 5 1/2 minutes into the game, keeping the lead in double figures for nearly all of the remaining time in the first half, including 38-19 at the break.

In the first half, Stelzer had 11 points, while Phil Romback had 12 and Luke Heller seven. The latter two shot a combined 7 of 8 from the field, including 2 of 3 3-pointers, in the first half.

As a team, MTU shot 64 percent in the opening 20 minutes and canned all six free-throw attempts.

“We’ve got some shooters,” Luke said. “We set a lot of screens for them. We’re pretty persistent with the screens, and the guys really concentrated on freeing up the open man, especially Ben early on.

“We also did a better job rebounding than we did last time (against NMU).”

Tech held a 28-24 edge on the boards, with Romback grabbing a game-high seven to go with 14 points. Heller had 12 points while reserve Jason Hawke added 10.

Northern had one good run early in the second half, slicing its deficit to 12 three times, the latest at 46-34 with 11:14 to go on a Brett Branstrom jumper.

Senior Chavis Mattison was the lone Wildcat to score in double figures with 15 points as he also led the team with six rebounds.

Sall explained his affection for his seniors, including Mattison.

“Spencer Huss (of Marquette) was one of the only two guys left from the last regime. He stuck it out,” Sall said. “And Chavis and Larry (Taylor), they were two of our first recruits. They’re instrumental in helping us keep the program together.

“Not only that, but all these seniors are just great human beings.”

Huss got a rare start and played 25 minutes Thursday, handling the ball and hustling all over the court on defense.

“Coach said I was going to get to play a lot tonight, so I was ready,” Huss said.

Tech also had several Marquette and Alger County natives see action Thursday.

Junior Jordan Chartier of Superior Central started and played 37 minutes, sharing team top assist honors with three while scoring five points and pulling in two rebounds.

Marquette freshman A.J. Grazulis saw nine minutes, scoring two points and making a rebound as just about the Huskies’ only truly big-bodied big man to be able to play one-on-one against NMU freshman Kenny Williams, listed in the program at 6-foot-6 and 288 pounds.

“Kenny is like our other freshmen,” Sall said. “All four of them can do great things. It’s consistency that’s the problem for them.”

Negaunee freshman Tanner Uren got in four minutes for the Huskies, too, making both his free throw attempts for two points.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is sbrownlee@ miningjournal.net.