Houghton comes up short against Westwood

Westwood's Nathan Beckman (10) rises up for a layup as Bruce Scott attempts to defend Friday in Houghton. The Patriots beat the Gremlins 35-32. (Daily Mining Gazette/Eden Laase)

HOUGHTON — Jared Lawson was terrified; he will admit that. But the coach knew he had to do something. As he sat on the bus driving home after a 22-point loss to Ishpeming, Lawson talked with his assistants and made a decision: Houghton had to start over.

The season was more than half over and the Gremlins had lost four games straight. Whats worse, they were at a standstill — not getting any better, and maybe even getting a little worse.

“I went home and I remember saying to myself, ‘Well, you either change something now, or nothing changes,’ “ Lawson said.

So he changed everything, and it started working.

Houghton stopped focusing on its offense and became a defense-first team. The Gremlins stopped dribbling as much and started moving without the ball.

And at this point in the season, Lawson has also stopped worrying about wins and losses. Every game, he said, gets the Gremlins one step closer to districts. That’s why he didn’t mind dropping a close one to Westwood, 35-32 on Friday in Houghton.

“I’m not disappointed at all,” he said. “I’m happier tonight than I was last night (after a 50-26 win over Lake Linden-Hubbell), because the defensive effort was there, and these are stepping stones since that losing streak … I feel very confident. After every game, I have left encouraged with what I have seen. Would we like to have won this game? Yes, but you know what? It is just one more step to where we want to be, and that is being competitive in the districts.”

There is one thing though, that Lawson would like to see corrected, and that is turnovers. The Gremlins have been doing a much better job taking care of the ball, but they still had two costly fourth-quarter turnovers that helped Westwood secure the win.

Houghton’s George Butvilas hit four free throws on back-to-back possessions to give Houghton a 31-28 lead with 4:38 to play, but a Gremlins turnover on their following possession allowed Blake Hewitt to swish a game-tying 3-pointer. Then, Camron Mason gave Westwood the lead on a baseline pull-up with 1:40 to play. He had 18 points off the bench to lead the Patriots, and was their main form of offense all night.

“He hit some big shots for us in the second quarter to kind of uplift us, because we were a little stagnate on offense,” Westwood coach Chad Hewiit said. “He was a big boost for us, and everyone around him kind of said, ‘Hey, let’s get Cam the ball.’ He had the hot hand, and they did a really good job getting it to him. Tonight it was Cam’s night, and he knocked them down.”

Trailing by one point, Houghton had possession with 17 seconds to go but made its second crucial turnover of the night. The Gremlins were forced to foul, and Nathan Beckman hit two free throws for a three-point lead.

“I told the guys that it is not a magic formula,” Lawson said. “Good defense and no turnovers wins basketball games, and we had two costly turnovers at the end of the game.”

The contest was a defensive battle from start to finish. Both teams started streaky, as Westwood opened the matchup with a 5-0 lead. Then, Houghton answered with a 12-0 run before Westwood ended the half on a 14-4 spurt for a 19-17 lead.

Westwood struggled with Houghton’s matchup 2-3 zone, while the Gremlins’ leading scorer, Brad Sirard was slowed down by Zach Niemi.

“I think he got run off about 150 screens tonight,” Hewitt said. “He will be sore tomorrow, but I thought Zach really did a great job to hold a player like Sirard to nine points.”

After the break, both teams settled in and it was a back-and-forth contest for the remainder of the game. Mason had 18 points for Westwood and Butvilas recorded 20 for Houghton, but defense remained the focus of both teams in the second half.

“‘I’m sure if anyone sees that score they will say it was a boring game, but I would love to watch that film over and over again, because both teams played phenomenal defense,” Lawson said.

Next up, Houghton travels to Calumet on Tuesday at 7:15 p.m. Calumet won the first matchup on Jan. 25 57-48.

– – –

Westwood 5 14 8 8 — 35

Houghton 10 6 6 10 — 32

Westwood — Mason 18, Beckman 7, Hewitt 6, Delarye 4. F: 18. Fouled out: Delarye. Free throws: 4-5. 3-point field goals: Mason 5, Hewitt 2.

Houghton — Sikeskimaki 2, Butvilas 20, Majilessi 1, Sirard 9. F: 11. Free throws: 11-16. 3-point field goals: Sirard.