Gremlin boys adjust line-up, take down Jets

HOUGHTON – Tuesday, the Houghton Gremlins learned life without Ryan LaBerge can be to their liking.

With their starting point guard sidelined by a broken bone in his hand, Houghton still handled a tricky Jeffers squad for a 69-50 non-league boys’ basketball victory.

It took more than four minutes for the Gremlins (8-3) to get on the board, but once Mike Saari hit a trey 4:18 into the game, Houghton started establishing its offense and imposing its will, particularly in the interior, on a smaller Jet team.

“Once we showed some patience on that offense and we took advantage of that size advantage, it really started to open everything else up because once they had to start accounting for that with some double-teams, we were able to get some cuts to the bucket for some layups. Our guys did a great job of reading that and making sure they were open for that back-door cut,” Houghton coach Jared Lawson said.

LaBerge, who also leads Houghton with 14.9 points per game, played with the injury in at least the Calumet game Jan. 25 before he was diagnosed last week and the hand cast. The cast will be removed in about two weeks, so a return on or before the postseason remains possible.

“The one thing we really miss with Ryan is how he pushes the ball up the floor and how he really gets guys focused and staying in an offense. Right now, we’re doing two or three guys at a time to fill that role. We’re doing a good job. We’re doing as good as we can to fill Ryan’s shoes until he gets back,” Lawson said.

Though they trailed 14-11 after one period, Houghton got hot from outside in the second. Trent Keteri drilled a pair of threes, Zack Ohtonen added seven points and freshman forward Justin Ruotsala drilled back-to-back shots in his varsity debut as the Gremlins took a 33-28 lead into the locker room.

They asserted themselves further in the third quarter, starting on a 18-3 run to essentially put the game away. That clinching move was keyed by senior Cody Goodreau, who powered to the basket repeatedly, scoring nine points in a four-minute span as Houghton pulled ahead by 20.

Jeffers (6-7) countered, making four of its five threes in a five-minute stretch of the second half, but the closest the Jets got was 11.

Jeffers has shown it’s capable of huge outside shooting nights, but this wasn’t one of them. All-U.P. senior guard Troy Kinnunen was held below his average with 17 points, two treys and a lot of tough drives to the basket.

“I thought we moved the ball really well. I did think we had the looks. I’m not saying we’re a great shooting team but I think we’re capable of making a few more,” Jeffers coach Duane Snell said.

Alex and Christopher Outinen added 11 apiece, with Alex making a gritty contribution in the second half after turning his ankle on a bad jump shot landing just before halftime.

“I can’t fault the effort. The kids worked their tail off tonight. Offense is fun and defense is work and we worked hard tonight. I think that may have contributed to our off shooting night. If we hit a few more shots, who knows, but I thought we worked extremely hard and expended a lot of energy on the defensive end,” Snell said.

Keteri’s 19 points equal a career high and were aided by 17 from Ohtonen and 15 from Goodreau. The Gremlins made all 12 of their free-throw attempts.

Lawson liked his team’s intensity in a non-league game but knows it goes up several degrees for their next outing: Wing Ding night in enemy territory at Hancock (5:45 p.m.)

“I still saw them diving on the floor late in that fourth quarter and that’s something that we want to strive for,” he said.

Jeffers also has a rivalry game Friday night, at home against Chassell.