HANCOCK - Calumet boys' basketball coach Mike Ojala said before the season began the Copper Kings would have a solid chance to repeat as district champions if they could find some shooting to go with their rebounding and defensive prowess.
Senior guard Daniel Olson listened and stepped up.
Calumet overcame an initial 10-0 disadvantage to start the first quarter of the season opener against Hancock Monday night thanks to 14 points and a trio of 3-pointers from Olson in the second and third quarters and 21 total points from junior guard Paul Torola in a 43-38 Calumet victory.
Calumet junior guard Paul Torola attempts a fast break layup with Hancock’s Brian Kass defending. Torola scored 22 points for the Copper Kings. (DMG photo by Michael Bleach)
Hancock got 24 points from 6-foot-7 junior forward Alex Almquist, but the Copper Kings' starting five proved superior to the Hancock team, at least on Opening Night.
"It was a great group effort coming back from down like that," Torola said. "Coach talked to us in the locker room and said we had to do the little things. the guys all stepped up."
"That was such an explosion from (Almquist)?early on, it felt for a while like we weren't going to score and that he might toss in 30-plus on us," Ojala added.
Calumet 4 9 20 10 - 43
Hancock 12 9 8 9 - 38
Calumet - Paul Torola 22, Daniel Olson 14, Chad Sturos 4, Owen Kariniemi 4; FT: 17-25; Fouled out: none; 3-point field goals: Olson 3, Sturos 1.
Hancock - Alex Almquist 24, Shane Raasio 9, Riley Engman 3, Adrian Saterstad 2; FT: 8-15; Fouled out: Brian Kass; 3-point field goals: Almquist 1.
"Nice job of the guys regrouping."
With Almquist dominating the opening minutes, scoring seven points before Calumet found a decent look at the hoop, the WestPAC matchup had all the makings of a lopsided result.
After the break between first and second quarters, however, Ojala called for his team to crank up the pressure defensively both in a trapping press and extended zone. The Kings took advantage of forced turnovers and the increased pace to take the lead midway through the third quarter after a 21-13 halftime deficit.
"Our guard pressure was outstanding," Ojala said. "Owen (Kariniemi) played with foul trouble for most of the second half but he was smart. I thought him and Chad Sturos did a nice job out in front of our press forcing some turnovers and forcing some guys into passes that we were able to pick off at the back end of our press."
Not only did the turnovers fluster Hancock, but it stymied the entry of the ball to Almquist. With the pressure forcing everything away from the hoop, the Bulldogs' offense bogged down in the second half, managing just 17 points.
"We don't have the numbers in practice to really work on it," Hancock coach Curtis Wittenberg said of the press. "I am going to have to get creative and find on ways to work on it. After the first few (turnovers), I think the guys lacked confidence against it. I keep trying to tell them that when you get pressure you should want the pressure because it is going to create buckets for everyone on the floor. But we made too many mistakes tonight."
Still, a turnover on every possession wouldn't have mattered if Calumet couldn't start finding a way to score.
With Almquist effectively shutting down shots at the rim, Olson and Torola stepped up from the perimeter.
Olson sank threes on back-to-back possessions in the second period to bring the deficit to single digits, then knocked down a triple and three free throws after a fouled 3-point attempt to give the Kings the lead in the third quarter.
"Those were big threes just to get us some baskets because I thought it was getting away from us quick," Ojala said. "I thought that was the key, because it put us within striking distance with some big baskets. It was difficult for us at first because we had a load of shots around the basket where if Almquist wasn't blocking them, he was changing them. So we had to start sticking some shots from the outside. Danny was the one who did that."
While Hancock slightly regrouped in the final quarter, briefly taking a two-point lead with four minutes to play, Torola closed the game out with seven unanswered points, five of which came from the free-throw line.
Then, with 32 seconds to play, Kariniemi shut the door for good, draining two free throws to make it a two-possession game. The back-to-back swishes were especially impressive as Kariniemi had missed the front end of a one-and-one the possession before.
"There were some big free throws down the stretch," Ojala said. "Danny and Paul did well there too. The free throw line was important for us tonight."