Almquist, Bulldogs make big trouble for Jets boys

HANCOCK – The Jeffers boys’ basketball team gave it their all Monday night, but in the end, some obstacles are too tall to overcome.

Hancock center Alex Almquist is one of those obstacles.

With the 6-foot-7 Michigan Tech recruit roaming the paint in the middle of Hancock’s 2-3 zone, the vertically-challenged Jets couldn’t get anything going at the rim and were helpless to stop the big man on defense when Almquist caught the ball deep.

The Bulldog senior finished with 24 points, 20 rebounds and five blocks as Hancock cruised to a 52-41 victory Monday night.

“It’s not that we weren’t boxing out, but the ball just hangs up there and he can go get it over us when you have a 5-foot-5 kid boxing out a 6-foot-7,” Jeffers coach Duane Snell said. “I can’t fault our effort. The kids gave it everything.”

Hancock (5-3) established its lead for good in the second quarter as the Bulldogs gave up just four points – one free throw from Christopher Outinen and a three from Alex Outinen – to build a 21-11 halftime lead.

Almquist recorded four of his five blocks in the period as his teammates extended the zone to the perimeter and dared the Jets to take on Almquist at the rim.

With good looks at three taken away, the Jets were left with little options.

“We knew they were a team that liked shooting threes, so we kind of planned on the other four guys playing out towards the arc, and I just told them that anybody in the high post or the paint, Alex could deal with them,” Wittenberg said. “Just make them shoot over him. When we focused it worked well.”

Things started to click offensively for Hancock in the third quarter then, as Chad Raasio, Riley Engman, Matt Yao and Almquist all knocked down threes after a spate of crisp ball movement.

Jeffers tried zone and man-to-man defense, but Hancock patiently swung the ball until a good look opened up.

After Raasio turned a turnover into a fast-break layup, the Bulldogs carried a 37-20 lead into the final quarter, effectively icing the game.

“Once our shooters start knocking down some shots, that really opens things up,” Wittenberg said. “They start doubling or tripling Alex and that is when its time for other guys to step up.

“We started moving the ball the way we are supposed to move it all year long,” Wittenberg added. “If we get one or two ball reversals, than we are going to get an open look almost every time.”

True to their nature, Jeffers made a spirited run at the end of the fourth quarter, but when things looked like they might be tipping the Jets way, Almquist collected four offensive rebounds and earned nine shots at the free-throw line.

“We are giving up way too many second and third opportunities,” Snell said. “Perhaps tonight its understandable a bit, but its been happening all season long.”

Alex Outinen finished with 19 points to lead the Jets (3-4).

“That kid is just a great ball player,” Witternberg said. “He can shoot, he’s tough. A really nice guard.”