A win only Lakes can love

PAINESDALE – The performance may not be one to remember, but the outcome was.

Lake Linden-Hubbell earned itself minimal style points Friday but earned enough scoreboard points for a 39-34 Copper Country Conference win at Jeffers and LL-H’s second boys’ basketball conference title of any kind in nearly 70 years.

“The kids, they bought into it, we won some close games, they believed in each other, they work hard, they’re an unselfish group. For a team with 17 guys, there hasn’t been one complaint all year long and that’s a tribute to everyone that is there,” LL-H coach Jack Kumpula said.

Much of the game felt like a stalemate in which the Lakes couldn’t make outside shots against the Jets’ zone and the Jets couldn’t overcome the Lakes’ physical advantages and the turnover bug.

The defining move came in the third quarter when LL-H’s Tyler Roose took over the offensive end. The sophomore hit three treys and scored 11 points in the Lakes’ 13-2 run that turned a 22-14 deficit just after halftime into a 27-24 lead with 1:10 left in the frame.

From then on out, the Lakes closed like champions should. Though they made just two field goals in the fourth, they made five straight free throws and held the Jets at bay. Though the Lakes never held better than a two-possession lead all night, they never trailed after Roose’s last three with 2:11 left in the third.

“The kids believed. They knew we could play great defense and we could hold them down. It was just going to be a matter of knocking free throws down and taking care of the basketball,” Kumpula said.

For Jeffers, it was a frustrating evening. They held the Lakes to barely half of their season scoring average of 63.3 points after allowing 80 and 63 points in the first two meetings, both in Lake Linden. But the offensive execution was never there long enough to make a sustained run.

“We made the mistakes. We had no problem breaking their presses in the backcourt. Where we turned the ball over was in the frontcourt,” Jeffers coach Duane Snell said. “We just rushed too much at times when we didn’t have to. Once we beat the press, let’s set something up.”

Jeffers 1,000-point scorer Troy Kinnunen faced constant LL-H double teams and recorded nine points, a season low, on three triples, two in the fourth quarter.

“We always knew where Kinnunen was, there was always help. He didn’t get to the lane very often, they did a very nice job,” Kumpula said.

What kept the Jets in it offensively was sophomore guard Alex Outinen, who canned three triples in a five-minute span at the end of the first half to give the Jets a 19-14 lead at the break. But the Lakes gave Outinen some of the same attention Kinnunen saw in the second half and LL-H held Jeffers to 15 second-half points.

Outinen finished with a team-best 14 points.

The Jets fall to 8-8 (5-2 CCC) and can get a rare fourth shot at LL-H in the Class D district semifinals at Chassell if they can see off Ontonagon in round one.

“We will learn from this, trust me,” Snell said.

Jeffers is back at it today in a make-up game at Dollar Bay.

LL-H (13-3, 9-0 CCC), which won the JV game, gets to enjoy its crown for two weeks until the second season begins. The Lakes play at Houghton Tuesday and can finish an unbeaten run through the conference by beating Chassell at home Feb. 26.

“We’re going to enjoy this, but we’re going to get ready for the district. This was something we really wanted, to win a conference championship. We’ve only won one in 50 years, so winning this one’s big. Now the district is in our crosshairs and that’s what we want,” Kumpula said.