SAULT?STE. MARIE - Leading by two points Saturday with 10 seconds remaining, the Lake Superior State men's basketball team employed a bizarre tactical decision.
After a Michigan Tech timeout, the Lakers purposefully fouled Huskies senior guard Matt Esters immediately upon receiving the inbounds pass.
That's right. With a two-point lead, Lake State chose to send a senior to the free throw line with a chance to tie the game.
Esters - a 71.5 percent career free throw shooter hitting 60 percent of his attempts this season in 22 total tries - calmly knocked down both freebies. And after an LSSU basket at the buzzer was wiped out for a charging foul, Tech forward Ali Haidar dominated overtime with seven points as the Huskies pulled away for an 83-79 victory.
"To be honest with you, I never had a doubt he was going to make them," Tech coach Kevin Luke said in a phone interview.
"That is what a senior does. He steps up to the line cool as ever, and nails them both. anyone on the floor for us would have. That is why he was on the floor, because we have complete faith in him."
Esters' Laker-aided heroics saved Tech from the embarrassment of having blown a 19-point lead with just over 11-minutes to play.
After cruising for the first three-quarters of the game to build a 62-43 lead, Tech (12-5, 9-4 GLIAC) gave up a trio of three-pointers and host of layups to gift Lake State (10-6, 8-5 GLIAC) a two-point lead with 30 seconds remaining.
"We just flat out lost concentration," Luke said. "We got in a bad comfort zone, took a couple silly fouls and let them back into the game."
With the momentum in overtime, Haidar capped off a superb game (35 points on 11-of-16 shooting) by reaching the free throw line five times.
Tech drew 27 fouls to the Lakers' 15.
"Honestly, it doesn't surprise me to see that he gets 35, but it was the first time in four years that it surprised me because it was quiet," Luke said. "We threw the ball to him every time. he just picked them apart. He went around and through double-teams."
Led by Alex Culy's six threes, the Huskies knocked down 11-of-25 attempts from deep as the team scored 80-plus for just the third time this season.
"11-of-25 sounds great," Luke said. "But if you could have seen them, we could have easily hit more. We missed a lot of open ones."