Gremlins good enough

HOUGHTON – It’s simple math – given enough opportunities, even a mediocre shooting percentage will look good on the scoreboard.

It took a while for Houghton’s shots to start going in during Friday’s Wing Ding game against Hancock but the steals they made to accumulate those shots added up as the Gremlins rolled to a 61-32 WestPAC win.

“I think trying to dictate a fast tempo allowed us to play our style of basketball against this Hancock team that likes to slow it down. I think, in the second half when that tempo really started to pick up, we responded really well,” Houghton coach Jared Lawson said.

With the win, its fourth in five games, Houghton ran its record to 10-4, 6-1 in the WestPAC.

The game in a sentence: Houghton struggled to make outside shots against Hancock’s zone defense or attack the rim protected by Alex Almquist, but Hancock made far too many turnovers to make a serious bid.

“I wanted to come out and slow the game down, and we didn’t want to sit back and let the game come to us. We kind of played their tempo a little bit instead of doing what we wanted to do,” Hancock coach Curtis Wittenberg said.

Though Houghton misfired out of the gate, a pair of Nate Gockenbach buckets and Trent Keteri’s lay-up made it 7-3.

Hancock got within a point on Jared Peryam’s trey, but Houghton point guard Eero Niemela hit triples back-to-back in the last minute of the frame to begin to give the Gremlins separation. Lawson credited the plays for settling Houghton’s offense down.

“I thought Eero did a great job of kind of dictating the tempo of the game. He was well in control as a point guard and in a big game situation like this with a crowd you have, you really need someone who’s going to stay under control and he really did a good job of that,” Lawson said.

Almquist scored inside twice early in the second to make it a three-point game, but Houghton connected three more times from the outside in the frame and carried a 26-12 lead into halftime. The late surge upped the Gremlins’ first-half shooting to 10-for-29 (34 percent), 5-of-15 from three, and a lot of those 29 opportunities came in chains.

“We know it’s tough to rebound out of zones, so you expect to give up a few, but it seemed like every loose ball went their way,” Wittenberg said.

On the other end, Peryam’s three in the first quarter was the only field goal from a Bulldog other than Almquist in the first half.

Houghton counted 61 pass deflections by its defense. Lawson said, in an average winning effort, the Gremlins will total in the fifties.

“That was certainly part of our game plan coming in to it. We felt that we could pressure their guards a little bit and try to create some fast break opportunities for us and we were able to do that tonight,” Lawson said.

Keteri hit another three on the first possession of the second half, and though Hancock started to have more success offensively, three takes from Niemela made it a 19-point game late in the third quarter. Hancock never got closer than 14 the rest of the way.

“We talked about just spreading it out so we could try to bring Almquist out from underneath the hoop. It’s so difficult when he stays under there in that zone so when we were able to get a little bit of a lead and spread them out a little bit, we were able to get more drives to the basket and that really helped us out in the second half,” Lawson said.

Keteri led all scorers with 17 for the Gremlins, who finished 24-for-61 (39 percent) for the game. Niemela scored 16 and Gockenbach 15. Houghton hosts Lake Linden-Hubbell Tuesday night.

Almquist had 16 points for Hancock (10-5, 2-4 WestPAC). The Bulldogs play at Ontonagon next Friday.