Hancock recovers in time to beat E-TC

HANCOCK – The Hancock Bulldogs put themselves dangerously close to the point of no return Thursday against Ewen-Trout Creek.

But instead of turning into a rout, the Bulldogs turned it around, getting back into the game by halftime, then escaping with a scrappy 44-41 non-league win.

After an Alex Almquist bucket gave Hancock a 6-5 lead midway through the first quarter, the Bulldogs lost their heads for a while, committing a run of turnovers and missed assignments that helped the always-opportunistic Panthers score 14 points in a row and forced Hancock coach Curtis Wittenberg to burn a timeout or two.

“Basically, I told them if they want to keep playing like this, they might as well forget it because we were going to be out of it,” Wittenberg said.

Almquist had a lot to do with the Bulldogs settling down, scoring 10 of his game-high 22 points in the first 4 1/2 minutes of the second quarter.

Now it was the Panthers in difficulty, as the Bulldogs went on a 15-2 run of their own to tie the game with 2:55 left in the half.

“We didn’t do very well against their 2-3 zone after that first run. A lot of that run was kind of scramble, transition kind of looks where we were pushing ahead and we were finding open people before they were set up in that good 2-3 zone of theirs,” E-TC coach Brad Besonen said.

Now that each side had its moments of madness, the second half turned into a messy possession-for-possession turf war in which neither side ever led by more than five.

Despite the fact that a three from the corner by Matt Yao on the first possession of the quarter was Hancock’s last field goal of the game, the Bulldogs carried a small advantage by being able to draw whistles. Though they went 8-for-their first 18 from the charity stripe in the quarter, it still was enough for a three-point lead with 31.6 seconds remaining.

Besonen drew up a play with less than 10 only for the mishandled inbounds pass to go off sophomore Alan Goll’s knee out of bounds.

The Panthers regained a chance by getting the better of an exchange of free throws, leading to an inbounds pass from in front of the Hancock bench with 2.1 seconds left in need of a three to tie. Tanner Driesenga cut through the Bulldog defense along the sideline and had a decent look at the buzzer, but drew only glass.

“That was a little better of a look than I wanted to give them, that’s for sure,” Wittenberg said.

After a frustrating night, it didn’t take long for Besonen to put the defeat into perspective.

“Ahh, early in the season, lots of guys with no playing experience on varsity and these kind of games early on are really good for us,” he said.

To their credit, the Panthers held their own against Almquist, who scored eight of his 22 on free throws and had only one three.

They just needed offensive heroics that didn’t come. Lane Brown had a team-high nine points before fouling out with 2:46 to play.

“I thought the driving lanes were there for us, I thought we did not do a very good job of getting there and we traveled probably 10 times or more making that initial move to get by a guy. We have to work on just being more fundamental and getting off the dribble,” Besonen said.

The Panthers (1-1) host Lake Linden-Hubbell Saturday night.

After two very different opponents in the first week of the season, the Bulldogs (1-1) face two more tests next week. Before a rivalry game with Houghton, they’ll play at LL-H on Monday night.

“Amazingly, after the way we started, we actually kept our heads in the second half and were doing things the way we needed to,” Wittenberg said. “We’re building and learning how to play in tight contests. There’s going to be a lot of them throughout the year.”