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Tech (men) 66, Findlay 49
December 7, 2012 - Michael Bleach
HOUGHTON — The Michigan Tech men's basketball team decided Thursday to go small, and in doing so, the Huskies won big.
Utilizing a four guard lineup for much of the contest — in an effort to slow Findlay leading scorer Greg Kahlig — Tech scored a 66-49 victory over the Oilers at the Student Development Complex to improve to 2-1 in Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play and 4-2 overall. It was the second victory in a row over Findlay for a Husky program that had lost the prior 13 straight to the perennial GLIAC power.
After employing a triangle-and-two defense last February in the win over Findlay, Tech coach Kevin Luke decided replacing 6-foot-7 forward Phil Romback with 6-foot-2 senior guard T.J. Brown in the starting lineup — creating a four-guard side with Alex Culy, Ben Stelzer and Austin Armga surrounding forward Ali Haidar — would give Tech its best defense this time around.
He was right. The Oilers shot 34 percent, missed on 18-of-24 three-point attempts and managed only eight offensive rebounds against 11 turnovers. In the end, it came out to 0.81 points per possession for a team averaging 82 points per contest prior to Thursday.
"It's nothing against Phil and its nothing against T.J. We thought after watching a lot of film that it would be our best opportunity for tonight," Luke said.
"The gamble was to make them make threes and it kind of worked. I'm sure they are not happy with 25 percent."
The key matchup depended on how Brown and reserve guard Troy Hecht handled Findlay leading scorer Greg Kahlig, who entered the game with 19.4 points per night on 60 percent shooting.
He finished 2-of-10 for four points in 30 minutes against the Huskies. Brown smothered the 6-foot-6 forward on the perimeter and more than held his own when Kahlig tried to work inside.
"Coach just tells me to go out there and shut the (opponent's) best player down. I take pride in that," Brown said. "He was a good challenge for me, because he is a good player.
"I noticed with all of his plays that he passes it and then cuts down to the block," Brown added. "So I tried to get a little physical with him, you know, see what the refs would let me get away with. … We knew if we could get him out of the game we would have a good chance."
The defense could only succeed, however, if the small-ball lineup could take care of rebounds after forced misses. If the offensive glass became an issue, Luke would be forced to adjust.
Haidar made the question irrelevant, grabbing 15 rebounds with 13 coming on the defensive end.
"That was one of the things we kind of double and triple checked with him," Luke said. "We said, 'Hey, get it done,' because the rest are guards. And when you have a guy who can get 15 or so in that environment you have a chance. He can't just get the rebounds he should, he has to get all of them."
Luke said before the game the Huskies could repeat last year's upset if they played with the same confidence.
Tech started the game on a 14-3 run in the first eight minutes and stretched a three-point intermission lead to nine in the opening 3:30 of the second half.
Both runs were fueled by the assertive play of Armga.
The junior finished with 16 points on 5-of-10 shooting, and scored nine of that total in the explosive opening to each half.
With the Huskies misfiring at a 5-for-19 clip behind the arc, and the Oilers sending constant double teams to Haidar (22 points, 7-fo-14 shooting), Tech needed the slashing style of Armga to prevail.
"I thought that they had a good game plan too. They wanted to get the ball out of Haidar's hands and they did," Luke said. "But I thought Armga did a really nice job. Their defense had us out of sync in the beginning and Haidar had to pick and choose his opportunities because of the double and that is when somebody else has to step up and Armga did."
Armga's best moment of the day came with eight minutes left to play, when he drove hard middle before spinning back baseline to convert a tough and-one lay-in. When he knocked down the free throw, the Huskies lead swelled to 14.
"We talked about it over and over again in practice," Armga said. "We had to be the aggressors, we had to strike first. … We took it to them today."
While it looked like the rout may be on from there, Findlay switched to an aggressive 2-3 zone, and combined with some passive and sloppy play from Tech, cut the lead down to eight with just under five minutes to play.
The clock was against the Oilers, however, and thanks to 10 consecutive free throw conversions — and 19-of-22 for the game — the Huskies closed the victory with eventual ease.
"We got a little back on our heels when they went zone," Luke said. "And that allowed them back in the game."
"At Walsh you could say that we lost the game at the free throw line," Armga added. "And we really focused this week at shooting free throws."
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