Renewed focus on defense leads Houghton hoops to win over Hancock

Houghton celebrates with the Wing Ding trophy after beating Hancock 48-31 Friday in Houghton. Houghton swept the 2018 Wing Ding with a 4-3 overtime win over Hancock. (Daily Mining Gazette/Bryce Derouin)

HOUGHTON — A 22-point loss to the Ishpeming Hematites on Jan. 30 highlighted the Houghton Gremlins’ offensive deficiencies when it came to facing a top-tier team in the U.P. So right then, coach Jared Lawson decided if his squad was to compete with the upper echelon teams or make any sort of deep tournament run, his group better be able to lock people down. He adjusted his practice schedules, centering them around a 90-10 split with the majority focused on the defensive end.

So far, the shift in ideology has paid off.

After allowing 44 points to Jeffers in a loss, the Houghton Gremlins captured the 2018 Wing Ding trophy with another solid defensive outing in a 48-31 win over the rival Hancock Bulldogs Friday in Houghton.

The victory snaps Houghton’s (6-8, 5-3) five-game losing streak.

Hancock shot just 12 of 32 from the field (38 percent) and turned the ball over 17 times as Houghton’s 2-3 zone managed to confound the Bulldogs.

“After the Ishpeming loss, we realized things weren’t working the way they were at the beginning of the season,” Lawson said. “(The practice split) probably isn’t something I want to see as a coach, but I’ve started to see some improvement on the defensive end, and that’s going to be the only way we make noise come tournament time.”

For the majority of the night, Houghton’s 2-3 zone was able to collapse on Hancock’s drives to challenge every shot at the rim or force a kick out. The Bulldogs could not take advantage from the perimeter, where they made just 2 of 13 attempts from 3-point range.

“When we first started, Houghton took away Devin (Raasio) in the short corner, so they were just packing it in,” Hancock coach Matt Strong said. “I didn’t think we did a great job of reversing the ball or skipping it like we wanted to, and their ball pressure was pretty good.”

Raasio led Hancock with 14 points.

With the luxury of having two of the better scorers at creating their own shot in sophomore Brad Sirard and junior George Butvilas, Lawson can afford to spend more time on the defensive end during practice and still expect offensive production from those two. Sirard and Butvilas’ combination of size and strength were too much for Hancock’s man defense as Butvilas had a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds while Sirard added 15 points.

Butvilas also added four assists with junior Sam Keskimaki the recipient of three of those as he finished with 10 points.

“Part of the way we were trying to get them open was just by constant movement,” Lawson said. “If someone is going to be on them but they’re moving constantly, those guys are going to hit two or three screens and the defense will begin to wear down.

“Brad and George got some good looks out of that. And I’ll be the first to tell them, but if they show a little more patience, don’t rush the first shot because the next shot could be a great shot.”

Sirard scored 10 of his 15 in the first quarter to ignite Houghton’s offense. His pull-up 3 off the dribble at the top of the key capped a 13-2 run for a 14-5 lead midway through the first quarter.

“We have the quickness to match up with (Sirard and Butvilas), but we obviously don’t have the height with some of our guards,” Strong said. “That makes it tough. Once they get to the rim, it’s hard to contest a shot.”

As Hancock’s offense continued to struggle, Houghton went on another run, 12-2, and took a 25-9 lead after a 3 from senior Elliott Majlessi.

Hancock never rallied as Houghton led by as many as 20 in the second half.

Houghton’s defense actually only allowed 29 points. The Gremlins literally gave Hancock two of its points.

With over a minute left in the game, Hancock (2-11, 0-4) came out of a timeout and shot a 3 at the wrong basket. Houghton took the rebound, went to the other end of the floor and made a layup at Hancock’s basket. Then, Hancock inbounded the ball, went near midcourt towards its wrong basket again before Strong yelled to turn around and shoot at its own basket, which Hancock freshman Carsen Chynoweth did for another layup.

“(Chynoweth) said to me, ‘I thought you were trying to trick me or something, ‘ “ Strong said.

Houghton finished the game 20 of 44 from the field (45 percent) and had 16 turnovers. The Gremlins held a 31-14 advantage on the boards.

“I told the guys that it doesn’t matter how you get the win. Getting a win is a good thing to get something else started,” Lawson said.

Next, Houghton heads to Kingsford on Thursday. Hancock hosts Bessemer on Tuesday.

– – –

Hancock 7 6 5 13 — 31

Houghton 15 10 11 12 — 48

Hancock — Watson 8, Chynoweth 4, Anderson 3, Raasio 14, non-player 2. F: 8; Fouled out: None; Free throws: 3-5; 3-point field goals: Raasio 3, Anderson.

Houghton — Keskimaki 10, Butvilas 16, Majlessi 5, Brundage 2, Sirard 15. F: 10; Fouled out: None; Free throws: 3-6; 3-point field goals: Butvilas 3, Sirard, Majlessi.