HOUGHTON - Smothered by a slow tempo and an unfamiliar zone defense, Houghton shot its way to daylight Thursday.
The Gremlins canned four threes in a row in the fourth quarter, turning a 39-28 deficit into a 40-40 tie they carried to a 47-44 WestPAC victory.
"We just kept telling guys 'Stick with it, stick with it.' I thought our defense was doing really well and I thought Hancock was doing a phenomenal job of shooting. I just felt there was going to be a breaking point at some point. Thankfully for us, it came and by sticking with it, they got it," Houghton coach Jared Lawson said.
Hancock’s Shane Raasio tries to break the Houghton full-court press and elude Gremlin guard Ryan LaBerge during the second half of Thursday’s game. (DMG photo by Brandon Veale)
Houghton hit 10 triples for the game. Ryan LaBerge hit three of his four in the fourth frame en route to a game-high 19 points, while Trent Keteri added his fifth trey of the game to tie it with 4:36 to play.
Houghton, which built a 3-0 start on pressure defense and high tempo, found itself unable to do either through much of the first three quarters. Hancock led from the beginning by sitting in a 2-3 zone, collecting rebounds and getting improved guard play on the offensive end.
In the fourth period, all that changed, and both sides reverted to earlier form.
Hancock 13 6 18 7 - 44
Houghton 6 7 15 19 - 47
Hancock - Alex Almquist 15, Shane Raasio 13, Riley Engman 12, Brian Kass 2, Matt Yao 2; FT: 5-9; Fouls: 13; Fouled out: none; 3-point field goals: Raasio 1, Engman 1.
Houghton - Ryan LaBerge 19, Trent Keteri 15, Cody Goodreau 7, Zack Ohtonen 4, Ben Collaer 2; FT: 7-12; Fouls: 14; Fouled out: none; 3-point field goals: Keteri 5, LaBerge 4, Goodreau 1.
"I thought we played about 28 minutes the way we wanted to play and the last four to six minutes, I guess, we went back to our old ways a little bit. Rushing and panicking a little bit. We didn't get the ball inside the way I wanted to at the end of the game," Hancock coach Curtis Wittenberg said.
Shane Raasio drilled a three at the buzzer to end the third quarter, and as he pumped his fist on the way back to the bench, Hancock had a nine-point lead which grew to 11 after Alex Almquist tipped in a bucket on the first possession of the fourth. It would be Almquist's, and Hancock's, last field goal of the game.
Houghton's four treys triggered a 15-1 run, and just like in the Bulldogs' Monday game against Lake Linden-Hubbell, the Gremlins (4-0, 2-0 WestPAC) kept them in it by failing to close the door at the free-throw line. LaBerge missed two front ends of one-and-ones followed by Zack Ohtonen going 0-for-2, all within the last 1:18.
With his team trailing by one, Hancock's Riley Engman missed on a three from the corner that would've given Hancock the lead. Cody Goodreau made a pair of free throws on the other end to make the gap three with 14.8 seconds left, but Hancock's final possession dried up when Engman, trapped along the sideline and looking for Almquist, passed the ball into LaBerge's chest and he ran out the clock.
"We fought back with heart. Our conditioning, our hard work in practice paid off for us," LaBerge said.
Hancock's snakebitten start continued. The Bulldogs, now 0-4 (0-2 WestPAC), have lost by a combined 20 points against four teams that are a combined 11-1.
"We've been right in them. We just haven't been able to pull one out. I told them I'm hoping it just comes down to experience, learning from one another in these contests," Wittenberg said.
Hancock, which was paced by 15 points from Almquist, hosts Jeffers Monday night. Raasio added 13 points and Engman 12.
Houghton has won its first four games, but this was the first decided by less than 17 points. Lawson was happy with the way his team handled adversity and tightened up in the fourth quarter.
"We limited them to one shot, and not only that, we did a better job of pushing their offense to the outside," he said. "They didn't abandon the game plan and they stuck with it to the end."
The Gremlins, who won the JV game, play their first road game of the season Monday at West Iron County.