Kariniemi shot gives Calumet revenge

CALUMET – Houghton’s Trent Keteri drilled a buzzer-beating three to beat Calumet 40-39 on Jan. 25, but Tuesday night the Copper Kings returned the favor with a buzzerbeater and one-point home victory of their own over the Gremlins, 41-40.

Calumet senior Owen Kariniemi’s lay-up trimmed Tuesday’s deficit to 40-39 with eight seconds left, Houghton threw the ensuing inbound pass away and, with 1.2 seconds on the clock, Paul Torola inbounded the ball to Kariniemi, who drilled a mid-range jumper as time expired.

“We just kept up the intensity and it came down to crunch time and we didn’t feel like losing another close game,” said Kariniemi, who finished with nine points. “There’s something about Houghton that just brings out the best – you always want to play your best, and it feels good to beat them.”

It was a game that always felt destined to come down to the final possession. In fact, the score was within a possession for all but four minutes. The game featured six ties and nine lead changes, and each team’s biggest lead was five points.

“These games are always tough, physical, hard-fought games with Houghton, they’re such a talented team offensively, but I thought this was our best game of the year as far as getting on the floor and getting after loose balls, not allowing many of those 50/50 balls to get to Houghton,” Calumet coach Mike Ojala said. “That was an outstanding win, big for our kids now to close out two close games down the stretch.”

Calumet, which had lost five games by three points or fewer this season, beat Lake Linden-Hubbell 53-47 on Friday. Incidentally, Houghton beat the Lakes 66-63 on Saturday.

“That’s the way Copper Country basketball has gone this year, every team seems to be so evenly balanced,” Houghton coach Jared Lawson said. “I think that’s going to help all our teams up here come district time.”

But before the Class C district tournament, the Gremlins had a chance to earn sole possession of the WestPAC championship Tuesday. Now with a matching 6-2 conference record with West Iron County and a season split against the Wykons, they’ll settle for a share.

“I know how much the kids wanted it. You never want to share it if you can try to get it on your own, but we had to finish it. We controlled our destiny with that and we couldn’t get it done tonight,” Lawson said.

It almost looked like it would be a repeat of the teams’ first meeting, though, as Keteri hit a left-wing three with 51.2 seconds left – his fourth of the game – to give Houghton a 38-37 lead.

“When you lose a number of games the way we lost them this year, it’s hard not to revert to some frustrating thoughts there at the end when Keteri hit that three,” Ojala said. “I was kicking myself for staying in that zone one too many possessions.”

With 29.6 seconds left, Zack Ohtonen nailed both ends of a one-and-one – his second such clutch conversion in a minute span – to put Houghton up 40-37.

Calumet took a timeout with 25.4 seconds left but took a while to get into its designed play, a back-door cut to Kariniemi. Dan Olson was finally able to find Kariniemi, who converted the lay-up with eight seconds left.

Houghton just needed to burn the remaining time, but the Gremlins attempted a 3/4-court inbounds pass that flew long. Since the inbounds was never touched, it returned to the same spot for Calumet with 1.2 seconds left.

Torola, who had missed the front end of a key one-and-one with 1:09 left, found Kariniemi, who quickly elevated from 10 feet away, banked home the tough-angle contested shot from the right side, and got a friendly roll in off the front of the rim. The gym erupted.

“We certainly had to pay for some bad breaks (in Houghton), so it was nice for things to come around our way,” Ojala said. “The play at the end was just an inbounds play that’s one of our basics and Owen hit a big, big shot.”

Calumet started the game with a 5-0 lead before Houghton answered with a 7-0 run, led by a pair of buckets from point guard Ryan LaBerge and a Keteri three.

LaBerge had missed eight games with a broken hand, but returned Tuesday, tallying six points and five rebounds, but only one assist.

He fouled out with 2:41 left when the game was tied 33-33, which allowed Calumet to effectively press the Gremlins.

Houghton committed 12 turnovers against just four assists, while Calumet committed 10 turnovers while tallying six assists. The Copper Kings only made seven of 13 free throws – Torola made just two of seven – but statistics otherwise were nearly identical.

Houghton outrebounded Calumet 30-26, while Calumet shot 38 percent compared to Houghton’s 36 percent.

The game was 9-7 Houghton after the first quarter, 13-13 at halftime and 26-25 Calumet after three.

Chad Sturos led Calumet with 15 points, including a lay-up to cut Houghton’s only five-point lead down to 31-28 with 6:06 left in the game. Torola made his only two free throws with 4:44 left, Olson made three free throws on either side of a Jake Pieti lay-up and Torola stole the ball and converted a lay-up with 2:11 left to earn a 37-33 Calumet lead.

“We have to be able to turn those four-point leads in the closing minutes into six- or eight-point wins and not have to try and come back like we did tonight,” Ojala said.

Calumet (10-8, 3-5 WestPAC) wraps up the regular season at home Thursday against Escanaba, while Houghton (12-6, 6-2 WestPAC) hosts Marquette Thursday.

“We have to quickly put this out of our head and move onto the next game, because if we don’t it’s something that could really affect our play down the stretch,” Lawson said.