Wildcats welcome Tech for rivalry matchup

Ray Bressette

re-Men's Basketball

The NMU men’s basketball team looks to keep their recent success thriving Monday night when their U.P. rival, The Michigan Tech Huskies come to town.

NMU head coach Bill Sall realizes this game has heavier weight than most matchups on their schedule.

“Our team needs to understand what it means to play Michigan Tech,” Sall said. “This is more than just a game, it’s a battle for the U.P. and for pride. This is about the program evolving where it needs to go. You throw the records out the window for this game, and it becomes about who can put more into the game and pull it out in the end.”

The Huskies have taken five of the last six matches over the Wildcats, but last season the NMU men’s basketball team upset the Michigan Tech Huskies with a 67-62 win over their U.P. rival on Feb. 2 for their first victory at Houghton in five years.

NMU has not beaten the Huskies at their home confines of the Berry Events Center since the 2012-13 season, but the men are 4-3 in games at home this year while Tech is 2-7 on the road.

Tech sits three spots ahead of the 14th place Wildcats in 11th place with a 6-8 overall record, while NMU has fought through injuries all season to earn a 4-10 record.

The ’Cats have won two of their last three games and are coming of their first road win of the year, an 82-69 victory over Northwood on Saturday, Jan. 30.

NMU has also won two of their last three home game, and outside of their home opener on Dec. 3 the ’Cats have not lost a game by more than four-points.

The young Wildcat double-digit scoring duo of freshman guard Naba Echols and sophomore guard Jordan Perez have played injured for the Wildcats as of late, yet Perez returned from injury early on Thursday against Lake Superior State University after the original hope for the ’Cats was to get him back for Monday’s game. Perez did not sink a bucket Thursday against LSSU, but returned the next game to contribute 16 points against Northwood.

Tech’s freshman forward Kyle Monroe leads the Huskies on the scoreboard averaging 17.7 points per game, and averages 34.5 minutes on the court. Freshman forward Bryan Heath and senior forward Luke Heller are also averaging double-digit points with significant playing time for the Huskies as well.

“The interior of their core is a concern for us,” Sall said. “They’re top-five in scoring in the conference. We’re focusing on containing those guys but also maintaining the ability to not let their remaining players have a great game and score thirty points.”

The Wildcats are playing their third game in five days, and will have two days off before hosting two games in three days this weekend.

Sall said his team is physically fit to grind through the tough stretch, starting with their top rival Monday night.

“For us, we’ve emphasized we’re playing better basketball and now we have everybody healthy,” Sall said. “It’s amazing to say that in a stretch like this, we’re as healthy as we’ve been all year. We have nine guys now that can go out there and get it done in a big game. A win like this would be huge for our program.”