Gremlins get defensive

HANCOCK – Houghton only played five guys at a time Thursday night, but for Hancock it had to seem like twice that many at some points in their WestPAC boys’ basketball game.

The Gremlins stymied their rivals in the backcourt, the frontcourt and everywhere in between for a 42-31 victory.

Houghton didn’t allow the Bulldogs to get to 20 points until there were six minutes remaining in the game and the result basically decided, prevented any Bulldog from scoring more than eight points and held Hancock’s All-U.P. forward Alex Almquist to just three.

A big part of Houghton’s success on defense was heavy trapping on the wings and heavy traffic in passing lanes.

“It starts in practice. We track deflections. It’s something we keep track of. We want our guys to get as many deflections as possible in a game. We feel like that’s more important than a steal. When we can disrupt the passing lanes like that, it takes the team out of their offense,” Houghton coach Jared Lawson said.

Almquist’s only field goal of the game was a post bucket midway through the second quarter. Though Houghton fields a fairly small team, the Gremlins were able to hold him to just eight rebounds (two offensive) and took advantage of a rough shooting night all the way around for Hancock’s offense. No Bulldog made more than two field goals.

“In the halfcourt, they sandwiched him (Almquist). They frustrated him, they made it difficult to catch,” Hancock coach Curtis Wittenberg said.

“It would be one thing if we had consistent outside shooting a little bit more, that would open it up a little more, they’d have to be a little more honest.”

Despite the offensive stuggles, Hancock was in the game at least through halftime. Spencer Silvola and Chad Raasio, a freshman guard making his first varsity appearance, scored on back-to-back trips to pull Hancock within five at 21-16 with 1:52 left in the half.

Houghton point guard Eero Niemela scored with 17 seconds left to put his team up 23-16 at the break.

The senior, who transferred to Houghton this year from South Carolina, had 10 points in the half and a game-high 18 for the night.

“He has a steady hand at the point, which is probably one of the most important positions in basketball with how much they’re going to be in possession of the ball. For him to have that steady hand, it kind of allows the rest of our guys to just relax, focus and get locked in on the offensive end,” Lawson said.

Niemela has plugged in well with the Gremlins, averaging 17.5 points over the first four games.

“The shooters were knocking down pretty good and we had a nice offensive scheme. We set some good screens and I got into the lanes to make some passes out to my shooters and take some shots for myself,” Niemela said.

He scored Houghton’s first five points of the second half on a trey and a drive to the hoop. Trent Keteri and Nate Gockenbach also connected from deep in the frame.

Meanwhile, the Gremlins held Hancock to a single point in the third, a Spencer Silvola free throw. At 34-17 after three, Hancock’s 14-point fourth quarter was largely academic.

“When the ball got cornered on the wings, they trapped heavily, which we expected. We just didn’t handle it very well,” Wittenberg said.

Keteri finished with 13 for Houghton (3-1, 2-0 WestPAC), which has its first league home game Monday night against West Iron County.

Hancock, which falls to 1-3 (0-2 WestPAC), will try to get back on track at Jeffers Monday night. Riley Engman had a team-high eight points.