MARSHALL - Michigan Tech forward Ali Haidar was the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Conference Player of the Year as a junior in 2011-12, and after his performance in the Huskies' season opener Thursday against Southwest Minnesota State, it was pretty clear to everyone inside the PE Gym how he earned that honor.
The 6-foot-7, 240-pound senior who played for the Lebanon national team over the summer showed off a versatile skillset for his large frame, using an array of post moves to score at will, showing touch on baseline jumpers and even handling the basketball at times to help his team break SMSU's press. He finished the night with 32 points on 13 of 19 shooting and pulled down 14 rebounds, leading his team to a 75-67 victory and leaving Mustang fans, players and coaches shaking their heads at his dominance.
But it wasn't Haidar alone who toppled the Mustangs. He required a double team when he touched the ball in the post, leaving the Huskies' talented shooters good looks from the perimeter.
Photo by Matt Dahlseid
Southwest Minnesota States guard Jordan Miller, center, is surrounded by four Michigan Tech players, including 2011-12 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Conference Player of the Year Ali Haidar (34) during the second half of Thursday night’s non-conference home opener for the Mustangs at the PE Gym at SMSU. Miller led the Mustangs with 15
Guard Ben Stelzer was the hottest of the night, going 6-for-9 from beyond the arc and scoring 22 points. After SMSU took a 60-58 lead following a tip in by Nick Smith with 4 minutes, 26 seconds left in the game, Stelzer responded with back-to-back 3-pointers, then drove the lane and laid off a pass to Haidar for a layup to spark a game-ending 17-7 run for the Huskies.
SMSU head coach Brad Bigler said Michigan Tech's inside-outside game proved difficult for his team to slow down.
"That's where they're just a very complete team. You have to double (Haidar) because of his presence and they have shooters surrounding him, so they're a very difficult team to match up with in the half court," said Bigler, whose Mustangs drop to 2-2 on the year. "I thought they handled our pressure well throughout the game. I thought they did a great job of controlling the tempo and we obviously have a lot of room for improvement."
Austin Armga 3-9 4-4 10, Alex Culy 1-7 0-0 3, Ben Stelzer 6-10 4-4 22, Phil Romback 1-4 0-0 3, Ali Haidar 13-19 6-12 32, TJ Brown 1-1 0-0 2, Jordan Chartier 1-3 0-0 3. Totals 26-53 14-10 75. Three-pointers 9-24 (Stelzer 6-9, Culy 1-6, Romback 1-3 Chartier 1-3) Rebounds 36 (Haidar 14) Assists 13 (Haidar 3) Steals 8 (Stelzer 3, Romback 2) Blocks 1 Turnovers 13 Total Fouls 17.
William Giddings 0-0 6-6 6, Tramel Barnes 2-2 0-0 4, Vinard Birch 4-10 2-3 10, Jordan Miller 4-14 3-4 15, Nick Smith 6-13 1-4 13, Jordan Buddenhagen 2-2 0-0 6, Shaun Condon 4-10 2-2 11, Lavione West 1-4 0-0 2. Totals 23-55 14-19 67. Three-pointers 7-12 (Miller 4-8, Buddenhagen 2-2, Condon 1-2) Rebounds 33 (Smith 11, Giddings 7, Miller 5) Assists 8 (Birch 3) Steals 7 (Birch 2, Barnes 2, West 2) Blocks 2 Turnovers 13 Total Fouls 23.
Halftime Score: MTU 35, SMSU 34.
Playing in the PE Gym for the first time since the 1996-96 season due to a concert in the R/A Facility, SMSU controlled play early and pulled ahead 24-15 after a layup by Smith with 9:02 left in the first half. Stelzer drilled three of his 3-pointers and hit a pair of free throws over the next five minutes to cut the lead to 32-31, and Michigan Tech went into the locker room up 35-34 after a free throw by Haidar.
The Mustangs shot 50 percent in the first half, but ball movement slowed as the game progressed and the Mustangs finished with just eight total assists after shooting 34.5 percent in the second half.
Jordan Miller led the Mustangs with 15 points on 4 of 14 shooting, with the four makes coming on eight 3-point attempts, and Smith added 13 points. Guard Shaun Condon came off the bench to score 11 points for the Mustangs, and Birch tallied 10 points and a team-high three assists.
Only two players recorded two or more assists for the Mustangs, something Bigler wasn't happy to see.
"I think that's the thing that we're coming out of this game focused on the most is I thought we were a very selfish basketball team tonight," Bigler said. "We didn't share the basketball like we're capable of. We weren't setting up our teammates. We were really more individualistic than we need to be. That's not Mustang basketball and that's something we have to learn from coming out of this game."
The Huskies held a lead through much of the second half before SMSU rallied with a layup by Birch, a 3-pointer by Miller and a pair of free throws by Miller to tie the game at 58 with 4:56 remaining. The Mustangs took the lead shortly after that when Smith tipped in a missed jumper.
Coming out of a timeout, Stelzer came off a double screen and found himself open at the top of the key, where he connected on a triple. On his team's next possession, Stelzer hit a step-back 3 from the right wing to put the Huskies up six. After another empty trip for the Mustangs, Stelzer drove to the basket and found Haidar for a layup to go up 68-60 with just over two minutes left. SMSU was unable to recover.
"I give them credit, coming out of those timeouts they hit a couple of tough shots," Bigler said. "(Stelzer) was very good tonight and he made us pay every time we left him open. They made the plays they needed to in order to win the ballgame."
After a rough home opener, the Mustangs will get back on the road Wednesday to face Division I South Dakota State, an NCAA Tournament team last season.