On Tuesday night, it all started with Jake Witt’s rebounding skills.
First, came an extremely rare milestone in the first quarter when he grabbed his 1,000th career board. Then down the stretch, he took rebound No. 1,012 and put Ewen-Trout Creek’s most unlikely of comebacks into motion.
The Panthers came back from four points down in the final 15 seconds to beat Calumet 57-56 and stay unbeaten at 7-0.
“(Being) 7-0 now, it feels amazing,” said E-TC’s Eli Nordine, who scored 18 points and hit the game-winning free throws.
Calumet appeared to ice the game at the line when Matthew Ojala made the first of two free throws to put the Copper Kings up 56-52. But the second was missed and rebounded by Witt, who took it down court and pulled up for a 3.
“I was going down, I heard coach yelling, ‘Drive in, drive in, go to the paint,’ “ Witt said. “I just pulled up. I don’t know what I was thinking, and it went in, luckily.”
E-TC called timeout with just six seconds on the clock.
The inbounds ended up on the floor underneath the E-TC basket and Eli Nordine was there to grab it. He put up a quick shot from a few feet out; it didn’t go, but the Panthers’ best free-throw shooter was on the line for two.
He made the first to tie and the second to take the lead, 57-56, with 3.2 seconds left.
“That was just crazy, the feeling when we got that steal,” Nordine said. “I just put it up there. I thought I was going to pass it to Jake, but then I just put it up there. I knew I was going to hit those free throws.”
Witt was happy it ended up going to Nordine.
“When (the Copper King) got it, he kind of fumbled it and I tipped it back and it went right in Eli’s hands, our best free-throw shooter,” Witt said.
With 3.2 seconds left, there was enough time for Ojala to sprint past half-court and get a great look at a long 3. It appeared to be on target, but it was short and the celebration was on.
“I thought, ‘Matt did it again to us,’ “ E-TC coach Brad Besonen said. “It looked perfect.”
Ojala hit a 3 with 12 seconds left in overtime last year; it was the game-winning shot in a 54-52 Calumet win.
But this time, it was just short.
“You’re out of timeouts and you don’t get to talk through that situation where Matt’s going to catch that ball after that,” Besonen said. “A kid that can move like Matt and the kind of range he has, that was a really good look that he was able to get himself at the end.
“After watching him do it to us last year, it took a long time for that ball to go through the air and get off the rim.”
E-TC trailed by nine points in both the third and fourth quarters. By the time the Panthers were down four so late in the game, their undefeated record seemed certain to be history.
Down 52-43, Cole Borseth hit an open 3. Nordine got to the line with 3:01 left; he hit the first and Witt got the rebound off the missed second shot. He got to the hoop and completed a 3-point play to pull E-TC within 52-50 with 2:38 to go.
Witt hit a fadeaway with 1:41 left to tie it at 52.
Calumet had a chance to take the lead, but it missed the front end of a one-and-one for the second straight time.
The Copper Kings finally took the lead when Ojala split at the line, making it 53-52.
Calumet got a turnover on the ensuing possession and Ojala sank two free throws for a 55-52 lead, and Calumet again forced a turnover.
That’s when Calumet made one free throw to go up four, 56-52. But they missed the second; Witt got the rebound and got the pull-up 3 to fall and make it a one-point game with six seconds left.
“I’ve never seen a shot like that, from that athletic of a big kid,” Besonen said. “That was fantastic. That’s a big-time player pulling up at the 3-point line.”
Calumet coach Mike Ojala couldn’t disagree.
“In hindsight, it’d be nice to be able to step up and someone get in front of him and stop the ball, but you’re also taking a running 20-foot shot with time left, so it’s what it is,” he said. “His 3 obviously hurt because the game is in hand at that point, but like a stud senior should do, he hit the big shot down the stretch to make that a one-point game.”
And if that shot isn’t improbable enough, E-TC got the steal and Nordine made two pressure-packed free throws to put the Panthers in front for the first time since the beginning of the second half.
“I tell you what, those two free throws right there, when you’re down one, are not an easy task,”Besonen said. “Eli, he stepped up there and drilled them when he needs to.”
For Calumet, they missed the front end of a one-and-one twice, plus two other free throws with the lead down the stretch.
“It really shouldn’t have come down to that (inbounds) play anyway, so the game is certainly not on the inbounds play at the end,” Mike Ojala said. “The game’s over if we knock down free throws. We had a nine-point lead late in that fourth quarter. You can’t turn the ball over and you’ve got to make free throws. We didn’t do either of those consistently down the stretch.”
Almost lost in the exciting finish was Witt’s milestone.
While many good players reach the 1,000-point mark, grabbing 1,000 rebounds is much more rare. Witt has done both. The only other one in the U.P. believed to clear a thousand is Brett Branstrom of Mid-Peninsula (1,328).
“It feels awesome, the first person from Ewen-Trout Creek to get 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds with such a past of basketball stars here, it feels great,” Witt said.
Besonen said there are a couple of reasons why Witt is so good on the glass beyond just being 6-foot-7.
“It’s his strength and athleticism. He has great and quick hops to go along with just the length that he has. And I think he pursues his shot really well,” Besonen said. “Another part is he’s had to get all the rebounds. We’ve been little. When Jack (Boro) was around, he gave him competition on the rebounds for two years. But when Jack graduated, he had to get 17 a game for us to be effective and he’s pretty much done that. He’s been just fantastic on the boards.”
Witt finished with 23 points Tuesday night. Nordine had 20, including four first-half 3s.
“First half, he gave them something to think about other than just collapsing on Jake,” Besonen said.
Matt Ojala led Calumet with 18 points, Eli McParlan had 15 and Travis Ojala scored 14.
E-TC hosts Watersmeet on Jan. 11. Calumet hosts L’Anse in its first West-PAC game of the season on Thursday.
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Calumet 12 13 17 14 — 56
E-TC 18 9 13 17 — 57
Calumet – Matt Ojala 18, Travis Ojala 14, Brandon Antilla 4, Elijah McParlan 15, Evan Ekdahl 5. FTs: 13-19. Fouls: 15. Fouled out: Cooper Twardzik. 3-pointers: M. Ojala 2, T. Ojala 1.
E-TC – Eli Nordine 20, Cole Borseth 6, Ryan Driesenga 2, Jaden Borseth 6, Jake Witt 23. FTs: 7-10. Fouls: 17. Fouled out: Borseth. 3-pointers: Nordine 5, C. Borseth 2, J. Borseth 1, Witt 1.