Houghton holds off Gwinn’s late rally for 63-50 win

Houghton’s George Butvilas shoots over Gwinn’s Chase Jensen Wednesday in Houghton. (Eden Laase/Daily Mining Gazette)

HOUGHTON — The Gwinn Modeltowners almost had it.

As their pressure built and Houghton’s Brad Sirard went to the bench with five fouls, it felt as though they could complete the comeback. But as luck, or rather, the rules of Michigan high school basketball would have it, there are only 32 minutes in a game, and Gwinn ran out of time.

Houghton breathed a sigh of relief and defeated the Modeltowners 63-50, Wednesday in Houghton.

“You do feel like you escaped a little bit,” Houghton coach Jared Lawson said. “It’s a weird feeling because we led from opening tip to the end of the game.

“I really never felt that the lead was comfortable, and as a coach, it is my job to let those guys know that no lead is ever safe. One thing you want to do is accelerate what you are doing and keep going. You don’t ever want to get passive.”

Houghton rushed out to a 23-11 lead in the first quarter, and while it may not have been comfortable for Lawson, it was always just out of reach for Gwinn.

“Houghton came out just blazing,” Gwinn coach Adam Ely said. “They hit their first six shots and five of them were 3s, so that is a tough start to come on the road and handle.”

Sirard was responsible for three of those 3-pointers, and George Butvilas and Sam Keskimaki each added another. Deep shooting may have helped the Gremlins build the lead, but it isn’t their game. Lawson prefers to see his team move the ball inside and take advantage of mismatches.

In the first half, Sirard did most of the scoring, netting 18 of his 25 points, but the second half was all about Butvilas. The junior guard had 17 of his 23 points in the second to help hold off the Modeltowners.

The Gremlins led 34-21 at the break, but Lawson wanted to see them go back to their roots. In practice, the Gremlins emphasize getting the ball to Sirard and Butvilas in the paint, so Lawson asked his team to stop shooting 3s, and instead focus on their post moves.

“One thing we tend to do, and I think any kid on any team at the high school level is vulnerable to this: when you hit one, you feel good and you start shooting a lot more,” Lawson said. “Well, you just had a good defensive stop, so why don’t you come down and make the defense work a little bit. They did a much better job of posting up in the second half.”

The strategy certainly worked for Butvilas. Each time down the court he would take advantage of a smaller guard and gain position. Then, all Houghton had to do was swing the ball and find the 6-1 guard. From there, it was basket after basket.

“It is a nice facet of his game to have because if his outside game isn’t falling he can go inside, and he has really good footwork and some moves in the post that he can use,” Lawson said. “At the guard level, it is really hard in the U.P. to have someone that is a 6-2, 6-3 guard that they can put on him, so it is a good option for us.”

But Gwinn had an offensive weapon of its own in 6-4 junior Tucker Taylor. Houghton used its 2-3 zone to collapse on Taylor, often putting two or three defenders on him, but the forward still recorded 24 points. The double-down was moderately successful, but Taylor was also able to overpower defenders by slashing to the rim, something Houghton wasn’t ready for.

“We knew he wasn’t going to look to shoot from the outside, but when someone is that strong, and that powerful, he’s a handful,” Lawson said. “Once Brad went out with five minutes to go, we decided to tighten it up a little bit and take our chances by leaving some other guys open and that helped a little bit, but ultimately he was able to get what he wanted.”

After the first quarter, the game was a back-and-forth offensive battle with Sirard and Butvilas trading buckets with Taylor. In the last three periods, Houghton only outscored Gwinn by one point, but the closeness of play couldn’t erase the 12- point lead Houghton built in the first quarter.

“I thought we did a better job in the second half, we were a little more aggressive and we moved the ball better, but 12 points is a lot to dig out of,” Ely said. “We needed probably a couple more minutes because our pressure was starting to cause some turnovers. But they did a good job too of handling it and getting to the free throw line.”

Next up Houghton (5-3) travels to West Iron County on Monday at 7:15 p.m.

– – –

Gwinn           11      10      18      11      —       50

Houghton        23      11      18      11      —       63

Gwinn — Forbes 10, Porubsky 4, Anderson 2, Taylor 24, Jensen 10. F: 18. Fouled out: Jensen, Porubsky. Free throws: 6-11. 3-point field goals: Forbes 2.

Houghton — Keskimaki 5, Butvilas 23, Majlessi 9, Sirard 25, Cleary 1. F: 12. Fouled out: Sirard. Free throws: 18-30. 3-point field goals: Keskimaki, Butvilas 3, Sirard 3.