No. 1 E-TC makes 14 3s in 77-45 win over Ontonagon

Ewen-Trout Creek's Eli Nordine prepares to shoot as Ontonagon's Tanner Balcomb defends Tuesday in Ontonagon. (Bryce Derouin/Daily Mining Gazette)

ONTONAGON — By now nearly the entire U.P. must know Jake Witt’s name, and for good reason, since he may be the best player on this peninsula. But it’s about time everyone also becomes familiar with Eli Nordine, Jaden Borseth, Cole Borseth, Tommy Cousineau and Ryan Driesenga. That’s who comprises Ewen-Trout Creek’s perimeter rotation, and while Witt has garnered attention for his monster stat lines, E-TC’s backcourt has quietly transformed into a confident and productive unit that can no longer be seen as a liability.  

The latest example of the group’s growth came Tuesday when the No. 1 Panthers shot 29 of 53 (55 percent) and rolled to a 77-45 Copper Mountain Conference win over the rival Ontonagon Gladiators in Ontonagon. 

Witt led the way with 29 points, 19 rebounds, six blocks and four assists, while Jaden Borseth added 20 points and Nordine finished with 16. 

Out of E-TC’s 29 baskets, 20 came off assists as the team consistently swung the ball around the perimeter to find the open person. 

“It’s been fun,” E-TC coach Brad Besonen said of watching the development of his guards. “Just the speed that they’re playing against each other in practice and drills, everything is so much quicker than it was in the beginning of the year … And the speed at which we push at from last year to now, there’s no hesitation, it’s just go.

“They just look more comfortable with each other. Confidence is a big thing for a veteran team, but confidence for a young team is even more important.” 

One just has to look at how E-TC (12-0, 5-0) shot the ball to see how high the team’s confidence is riding after a 12-game winning streak. E-TC converted 14 of 27 3s (52 percent), with Nordine knocking down five and Jaden Borseth and Witt each converting four. 

“You hope you find a couple nights along the year where everyone can stick shots,” Besonen said. “I’m glad it was tonight because we have really struggled to score the ball well here the last few years, and that probably felt really good for Jake and Eli because the games here have been tough for us.” 

Prior to Tuesday, E-TC was just 1-2 the last three seasons at Ontonagon, including a 58-54 loss on Feb. 15, 2016, and a 63-62 defeat on Dec. 8, 2014

But there would be no closely-contested finish in this one, thanks to a 21-2 run by the Panthers. From the end of the third quarter to the start of the fourth, E-TC made 7 of 8 attempts from 3 to turn a 48-33 lead into a 69-35 advantage. The 6-foot-7 Witt swished all four of his 3s during that span on as many attempts.

“After I made the first and second, it felt really good,” Witt said of his shot. “(Shooting 3s) really helps because they can’t double as easily out at the 3 as they can at the post, so it really opens up things for my teammates and everything else.”

The Gladiators started out in a man defense, but Witt dominated inside for seven points and the E-TC guards were able to penetrate and find the open shooter to jump out to a 22-12 lead after the first quarter. Midway through the second, Ontonagon went to a 2-3 zone and Nordine hit his second 3 of the game for a 31-14 advantage with 4:52 left in the half. 

Nordine scored 13 of his points in the first half. 

“We tried a few different defenses on them, but when it comes down to it, you still have to stop Jake in the middle, no matter how hard you try to take the 3 away,” Ontonagon coach Andy Borseth said. “And then when Jake started knocking down 3s, it just crashes everything you planned for.” 

Defensively, E-TC debuted a 1-3-1 zone for the first time, with Witt roaming the baseline and Jaden Borseth defending the middle. 

“I loved it. I really like it for (Ontonagon),” Besonen said. “We can’t play them man with their starting lineup because of how their bigs will pull Jake out. If we sit Jake under the rim, their bigs can hit perimeter shots against us. Against a 2-3 zone, their bigs are good at flashing the high post and are really good at the high low. 

“We were able to just leave Jake home at the rim. It won’t work against a lot of teams because we’re susceptible to corner 3s so much. That’s a tough one for us to play too, though, because if you’re driving the backside on the 1-3-1, our guys are tiny. I thought for this game, it would be a good thing.”

Ontonagon senior Tanner Balcomb connected for two 3s in the first quarter against E-TC’s 1-3-1 and would finish with a team-high 13 points. 

But the Gladiators were never able to develop an offensive rhythm as E-TC’s full-court press sped up Ontonagon (3-9, 2-6) and forced the Gladiators into jumpers for much of the night. Ontonagon finished 17 of 54 from the field (32 percent). 

The missed jumpers allowed Witt to record a double-double just 9:30 into the game when he already had 11 points and 10 rebounds. E-TC held a 38-30 edge on the boards.

“We got sucked into a track meet,” Andy Borseth said. “We got out of our motion offense. We wanted to move the ball a little bit, but it was one pass and shoot. Next thing you know, (E-TC) was flying to the other end for a layup. 

“We definitely didn’t stick to our game plan.”

Next, E-TC heads to Jeffers on Friday while Ontonagon goes to Wakefield-Marenisco on the same day. E-TC’s matchup with Jeffers will be the final game before its Feb. 7 showdown at Michigan Tech with fellow No. 1 Dollar Bay.

– – – 

E-TC 22 19 22 14 — 77

Ontonagon 12 11 12 10 — 45

E-TC — Cousineau 3, Nordine 16, Cole Borseth 5, Driesenga 4, Jaden Borseth 20, Witt 29. F: 12; Fouled out: None; Free throws: 5-13; 3-point field goals: Nordine 5, Jaden Borseth 4, Witt 4, Cole Borseth. 

Ontonagon — Polakowski 8, Pollard 3, Domitrovich 4, Buzzo 2, Kemppainen 2, Menigoz 8, Labine 3, Blake 2, Balcomb 13. F: 16; Fouled out: None; Free throws: 5-10; 3-point field goals: Balcomb 3, Menigoz 2, Pollard.