Keskimaki scores 18, Houghton tops L’Anse

HOUGHTON — If you would have walked in before Monday night’s boys district matchup and told L’Anse Purple Hornets coach Kyle Koski that his team would hold Brad Sirard and George Butvilas to just 22 points and force Sirard to foul out, he would have just about guaranteed a victory over the host Houghton Gremlins.

While those two things happened the way the Purple Hornets needed them to, Sam Keskimaki took advantage of the extra space he found on the floor and racked up a game-high 18 points as the Gremlins found a way to earn the victory, 47-38, their first in district play in five years.

“We tried to move our zone into a 3-2 to stay on Sirard and Butvilas and limit their touches,” Koski said. “Keskimaki killed us. He came up with 18 points. Hats off to him.”

Gremlins coach Jared Lawson was extremely pleased with the efforts of Keskimaki.

“Sam did a wonderful job for us offensively,” Lawson said. “For Sam to put up 18, that was the difference in the game for us.”

Lawson and his staff had been working throughout the season with Keskimaki to get him to understand that when teams defend Butvilas and Sirard closely, there might be room in the seams for the junior to attack. In recent games, the adjustment was starting to work as he averaged between six and eight points before his breakout Monday.

“We have really been working with him, when we set a screen, (have him) look to cut or look to roll off that and find that opening. Brad and George are getting so much attention, there are seams in there. For the last six to seven games, he’s done a good job of finding them,” Lawson said.

Despite the strong second half for both teams, things started slowly as they combined for just seven points through the first seven minutes and 12 points when the first-quarter buzzer sounded. Both squads had more traveling and double-dribble calls than anything else.

“Absolutely, I think jitters affected guys early in the game,” Lawson said. “There had to be six or seven calls combined. In varsity basketball, 20 games into the season (that can’t happen).”

The Purple Hornets, who had been averaging close to 45 percent from beyond the arc for the past month, struggled throughout the night to find their groove from anywhere outside of five feet. They made just four 3s and 13 total baskets on the night.

“We picked a bad game to shoot probably our worst percentage of the year,” Koski said.

Keskimaki started getting things rolling for the Gremlins in the second quarter when he found a seam in the middle of the L’Anse defense just under two minutes in. Four minutes later, he found another hole, drove through it and took a pass from Butvilas before burying a layup, putting the Gremlins up 15-8.

Alex Kissel answered that layup with his lone 3 of the night from the right corner to pull the Purple Hornets back within four. Terry Reed followed with one from the left side a little over a minute later to pull L’Anse (5-16) within four again, 18-14.

The Gremlins (9-12) pushed that lead up to 11, 30-19, in the latter stages of the third quarter when Sirard drained a 3 from the right side of the top of the key.

Keskimaki went back to work in the fourth quarter, and he led all scorers with 10 points in the final eight minutes as Houghton pushed its lead, which had dwindled to five, back up to 40-30.

Reese Waara, who finished with a team-high 15 points, did answer Keskimaki with a 3 from the corner late in the contest as L’Anse shaved one off that advantage. But L’Anse got no closer as Butvilas and Keskimaki made key free throws down the stretch as the Purple Hornets missed shots. The Gremlins advance to face Calumet on Wednesday at the Calumet Gym.

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L’Anse 3 11 11 13 — 38

Houghton 9 11 12 15 — 47

L’Anse — Waara 15, Reed 7, Sanregret 5, Rajala 5, Kissel 3, Jacobson 2, Niemi 1; Fouls: 17; Fouled out: Sanregret; 3-point field goals: Rajala, Reed, Waara, Kissel.

Houghton — Keskimaki 18, Sirard 13, Butvilas 9, Romano 2, Majlessi 2, Hyslop 2; Fouls: 16; Fouled out: Sirard; 3-point field goals: Sirard 3, Romano.