Improbable rally not enough to save Houghton

HOUGHTON – After 32 minutes of basketball sins, punishment came in the form of overtime Friday night for the Houghton boys’ basketball against Escanaba.

Though a late run and miracle tip-in forced overtime against the U.P.’s No. 4-ranked team, the Eskymos busted open the extra session early and drove home 66-54 victors.

The Eskymos had controlled play from the second quarter on but had just enough offensive misfires to keep the game from turning into a rout, though with 6:22 to play had a 45-32 lead.

Despite a collection of hardwood maladies such as turnovers, foul trouble and mediocre shooting, Houghton got hot late, drilling three treys in a three-minute span to set up an improbably crazy finish.

“We were in control with five minutes to go and we left a tiny opening and when you do that against a good team, they took full advantage of it and they bumped us into overtime. We’d miss a layup and they’d come down and hit a three,” Escanaba coach Tracy Hudson said.

Eero Niemela scored to make it 50-46 with 1:34 to play, then Houghton forced a steal, leading to two Sean Hyslop free throws. After his second make, Houghton stole the inbounds pass.

Without a good look, Houghton spent most of the last minute passing the ball around and as the clock ran dry, its only option for the last shot turned out to be a contested lefty heave from the corner by backup point guard Ri Chen. Fellow junior Sam Bethancourt was waiting under the basket unguarded and tapped it in as the buzzer sounded to send the game to overtime.

“Some of our young guys were in there and played a part in that and they had that energy off the bench and we really needed that tonight in the fourth quarter,” Houghton coach Jared Lawson said.

The extra session was significantly less dramatic.

Ben Kleiman drilled a three on the first trip down, then later drew a foul. He missed his second free throw, but after an Eskymo offensive rebound, Brandon Robinette scored for a six-point lead 53 seconds in. Kleiman had another basket to make it an 8-1 run, and though Niemela drilled a three with 1:16 to go, Esky scored the last eight points and made the finish academic.

“I stayed in that same trapping defense that kind of got us back into the game in the fourth quarter and I probably should have played something a little more conservative than that in overtime once we had tied the game,” Lawson admitted.

Escanaba employed balanced offense led by 17 from Kleiman and 16 from Robinette, a 6-foot-5 senior center. However, Robinette’s fourth foul, which came immediately after missing a dunk midway through the third quarter, hampered the Eskymos on both ends of the floor. From the four-minute mark of the third through the end of regulation, Escanaba had four field goals.

“I told the kids, ‘The way we played the overtime, that’s the way you’ve got to play the final five minutes,” Hudson said.

Keteri led Houghton with 17 points and five triples. Niemela added 15 and Nate Gockenbach 10.

After falling to 11-5 overall, Houghton has four games to tune up fundamentals and a flagging shooting percentage in advance of its first Class B district tournament, in which the teams could meet in a final.

“We’ve been consistently in the low 30s for quite a few games and we’re going to need to pick that up if we want to make some waves come tournament time,” Lawson said.