HOUGHTON - Fast, but not hurried. Aggressive, but under control.
With an undefeated record start to the season, the Houghton boys' basketball team continues to pull off a tough balancing act and it was Escanaba Monday night who found the new and improved Gremlins too much to handle.
With a bevy of pressure and up-tempo play, the Copper Country's Orange and Black took down the Eskymos 64-44, giving Houghton its third straight win by at least 17 points. The Gremlins are averaging 65.6 points per game to start the season after scoring 49.6 points a contest last year with a 9-12 final record including a sweep at the hands of Escanaba in a home-and-home series.
Houghton junior Zack Ohtonen takes the ball to the hoop on a fast break Monday night, eventually earning a trip to the free throw line in the Gremlins 64-44 victory over Escanaba. (DMG photo by Michael Bleach)
At the heart of the Houghton victories has been a constant press that controls the tempo as the Gremlins see fit.
"It is critical to us," Lawson said. "(Escanaba) actually handled it really well from the second quarter on, but to have that pressure establishes the tempo that we want to play. So if you get that set early hopefully the game will continue that way."
"We had 20 turnovers and that was really a big key," Escanaba coach Tracy Hudson said. "I thought Houghton was really sharp and we got off to a slow start and I think they gained confidence in that."
Escanaba 8 13 14 9 - 44
Houghton 18 14 14 18 - 64
Escanaba - Brandon Robinette 11, Jamie Hiltunen 3, Demetrian Macon 6, David Falish 5, Storm Fournier 4, Sam Molnar 11, Ben Kleiman 2, Bailey Lamb 2; FT: 9-14; 3-point field goals: Hiltunen 1, Macon 1, Molnar 1.
Houghton - Trent Keteri 18, Cody Goodreau 12, Kyle Mattson 6, Ryan LaBerge 8, Zachary Ohtonen 12, Elias Lilleskov 4, Thomas Strome 3, Dyson Bastian 1; FT: 8-12; 3-point field goals: Keteri 4, Ohtonen 1, LaBerge 2, Goodreau 2, Strome 1.
The Gremlins started the game on a 7-0 spurt in the opening three minutes and led 18-8 after the first quarter before Escanaba could adjust to the trapping press.
A hot start shooting from the outside put the Eskymos on their heels early. Junior guard Trent Keteri dropped in 10 first half points (with two threes) and a game high 18 total. Fellow guards Zackary Ohtonen and Ryan LaBerge also converted from deep in the first half as Houghton knocked down 10-of-25 threes for the game
"When the ball is falling like that on the outside it forces the defense to make some decisions," Lawson said. "That is always good for us ... it forces (the defense) to step out and at least play us honestly and that allows our offense to open up a bit when the middle can open up like that."
The Eskymos made it a game again at the start of the third quarter, cutting the lead to six points on three consecutive occasions. But a pair of triples from Keteri pushed the lead back to 14 and Escanaba never threatened again.
"We just kept telling him 'keep shooting, keep shooting,'" Lawson said. "He is a really good shooter and it came around at the right time for us."
While point guard LaBerge didn't dominate the scoresheet - finishing with eight points - his control of the Gremlins' pulse was obvious.
When the ball needed to be pushed, LaBerge flew down the court. When the situation called for possession he spread it around the perimeter. The disciplined play helped put Escanaba completely away in the fourth quarter.
"He is a third-year varsity player who has seen a lot and experienced a lot and I think that experience is really starting to pay off for him this year," Lawson said. "He understands how to control the tempo of the game. You really need that with your point guard."