HOUGHTON - After a dead-even first half with the West Iron County boys' basketball team Monday, Houghton coach Jared Lawson decided to amp up the intensity in the third quarter against the Wykons, sending his Gremlin defense into maximum-pressure mode.
With a swarming, trapping press, the Houghton defense forced 17 steals and held the WIC offense to five third-quarter points to pilfer a 64-52 win.
With Houghton losing at West Iron back on Dec. 17, the victory evened the WestPAC conference race with the Gremlins and Wykons sharing one blemish each.
Houghton senior Elias Lilleskov guards the West Iron County inbounder Brock Hopkins Monday as Houghton sets up a full-court press. The Gremlins forced 17 steals in the win. (DMG photo by Michael Bleach)
"It is one of those things that we know we can do really well," Lawson said. "And for me as a coach, I have to try and find our moments to use it. We have had a few games this year where it has worked really well for us and tonight was one of those instances."
After each basket and dead ball in the third quarter, Lawson could be heard screaming "100-Z" to urge his team into the frenetic press they wanted to employ.
The designation is important, because Lawson has devised six or seven variations of the press - with the intent and emphasis different for each - and he is willing to change the defense at a moment's notice.
West Iron 17 13 5 17 - 52
Houghton 14 17 15 17 -64
West Iron County - Alex Ralston 4, Joe Pisoni 1, Tyler Stafford 8, Adam Newby 7, Ryan Rogers 6, Austin Waara 14, Tylor Capadagli 2, Aren Newby 2, Anthony Rule 2, Brock Hopkins 2, Andy Ridolphi 4; FT: 10-15; Team fouls: 20; Three-point field goals: Newby 1, Rogers 1.
Houghton - Ryan LaBerge 21, Trent Keteri 16, Cody Goodreau 12, Zack Ohtonen 6, Elias Lilleskov 6, Ben Collaer 1, Kyle Mattson 2; FT: 17-27; Team fouls: 15; Three-point field goals: LaBerge 2, Keteri 3.
But with steals and baskets coming at a rapid rate in the third period, Lawson stuck with "100-Z" until the Wykons proved that they could beat it. They never did.
Of the five made field goals in the third quarter for Houghton, four came directly off steals along with eight trips to the free-throw line.
"The guys make fun of me because we have so many different variations, at least seven of them," Lawson said. "We are going to run out of letters to name them soon. I think as the season progresses though, as teams get well scouted, you want to be able to throw a few wrinkles out every game and that is something they haven't seen before. Tonight we went with the letter 'Z' and that worked well for us."
"I take a lot of the blame for that because honestly, I just didn't go over press break this week in practice," WIC coach Dan Schive added. "I told them I take 75 percent of the blame. Still, we should have been able to do more against them eventually."
Along with daily practice - or as Lawson puts it, "Constant, constant practice" - the trapping defense has been so effective for Houghton because the current personnel fits the scheme perfectly.
It starts with an energetic pogo stick - 6-foot-4 senior Eli Lilleskov - guarding the inbounder, and finishes with a multitude of quick guards in Ryan LaBerge, Trent Keteri and Cody Goodreau going for steals on every pass and trapping if the ball manages to make it past Lilleskov.
Keteri finished with seven steals, while LaBerge and Goodreau managed five apiece Monday night.
Lilleskov wreaked the most havoc though, tipping several balls - including a steal directly off the inbounds of his own - and upping the degree of difficulty on each entry pass. Houghton led by as much as 18 in the fourth quarter before Lawson and Schive subbed liberally off the bench.
"With his length, and that is the idea behind it, we really want to use that to our advantage," Lawson said. "That creates so much pressure on the guy inbounding the ball and when he is really getting his hands up and getting his defensive pressure on like he is tonight he makes it so tough for the ball to come in."
Complementing the tenacious defense was a patient offense that saw all five starters reach at least six points with LaBerge (21 points), Keteri (16 points) and Goodreau (12 points) all flashing in different moments.
Sharp ball movement led to five made threes and aggressive penetration off steals and ball-reversals wielded 27 free throws attempts.
"That is kind of the bizarre thing about our team, is that we want to push so much on defense, but if we have a chance, slow it down on offense and make the other team work," Lawson said. "I think we did a good job of that tonight."