No space: Seven letters, two syllables and probably the most used words in the Hancock gym on Monday night.
Calumet coach Jeff Twardzik called out “No space” nearly every time Hancock had the ball, encouraging the Copper Kings to play tight defensively on the ballhandlers.
But the two words could be used to describe several facets of the game.
No space given to offenses as both teams played in-your-face, high-pressure defense.
No space talent-wise between the Bulldogs (9-5, 2-3) and the Copper Kings (5-6, 3-2).
And for most of the game, no space between the two sides of the score. It was a back-and-forth contest from start to finish.
But in the end, Hancock created space, just enough to pull away for a 38-36 West-PAC victory over Calumet.
It was the first win for Hancock over Calumet in four years, and as the Bulldogs, clad in their home-whites embraced after the game, one thing was clear: The win was long awaited.
“Calumet is a rivalry game, it is a West-PAC game, but most importantly, it is a team we face in districts,” Hancock coach Jack Johnson said. “To get a win during the regular season, it really proves to the girls that we can play with them. We know any given night that Calumet is a great basketball team. They have scorers, they have post players, but to know mentally that we are competitive and we are right there with them sets us up for the future.”
But getting there wasn’t easy, and the win almost slipped away on several occasions.
Neither team could get into a rhythm on offense, with disruptive defense controlling the flow of the game.
Then, as the fourth quarter began to wind down, Hancock seemed to gain its footing. Mialy Brooks spotted up for a 3-pointer in the corner and knocked it down, giving Hancock a 37-31 lead with 3:05 to play.
Brooks finished with eight points, all of which came in the second half. She isn’t known for being a scorer, but Johnson said this game meant a little bit more for the senior.
“She is not our go-to ball handler, but she is a senior with a goal,” he said. “At the beginning of the season, she said, “Coach I have two goals: to beat Houghton and to beat Calumet.’ We were close in the Houghton game, but tonight she walked out of the locker room and said, ‘Check one off the list.’ So it is a senior playing big in a big game, and we looked to her to knock down that shot.”
When Brooks gave Hancock a six-point lead, the Bulldog faithful cheered louder than they had all evening, but Calumet had an answer. Niina Anderson converted a shot from the low block, cutting the lead back to four points.
Neither team scored again until there were 54 seconds remaining. Calumet’s Lea Bjorn converted a 3-point play, making Hancock’s lead just 37-36. Bjorn fouled out on the next possession, and Taylor Sebbas hit one free throw to make it 38-36.
Calumet had the ball twice more, once with 20 seconds to play and again with two, but the Copper Kings couldn’t take advantage.
“It’s the same old story for the whole year,” Twardzik said. “We are just having a hard time putting the basketball in the net. I don’t know how many shots we had inside of five feet, but they are just not dropping for us. I just told the girls, ‘Effort-wise, don’t hang your heads. That is the best you can do.’ They worked their butts off, but sometimes the ball doesn’t fall in, and that’s been all year.”
Calumet had a clear size-advantage over Hancock with Bjorn and Brooke Kariniemi in the post, but Hancock was able to negate the advantage. The Bulldogs limited Bjorn and Kariniemi to eight combined points. Taylor Sebbas, Delaney Heinonen and Marina Kero were tasked with locking down the paint, and they didn’t disappoint.
“We knew we couldn’t get in a half-court set with Calumet, we are out-sized at nearly every position,”Johnson said. “But the pressure that we were able to put on, we were able to make their cuts a little more difficult, not giving them the position they wanted on the block. We bumped them off those cuts and forced them to either cut higher or lower and they couldn’t get good post position.”
Overall, the game was a defensive battle — neither team had a scorer hit double-digits.
Hancock was challenged for most of the game as leading scorer, Sebbas, spent all of the second and most of the third quarter on the bench with four fouls. She finished with eight points. D’Andra Kero led the Bulldogs with nine points.
Anderson led Calumet with nine, going a perfect 7-7 from the free throw line.
Next up, Calumet travels to L’Anse Thursday at 7:15 p.m. Hancock hosts Bessemer on the same day.
– – –
Calumet 10 11 6 9 — 36
Hancock 9 9 13 9 — 38
Calumet — Niina Anderson 9, Brea Johnson 3, Bjorn 6, Amber Johnson 4, Ava Anderson 3, Kiilunen 7, Kariniemi 2, Rilei 2. F: 23. Fouled out: Bjorn. Free throws: 13-18. 3-point field goals: Brea Johnson, Ava Anderson, Kiilunen.
Hancock — Abby Brooks 1, Mialy Brooks 8, Marina Kero 4, Sebbas 8, Pertile 7, D’Andra Kero 9, Heinonen 1. F:14. Fouled out: None. Free throws: 7-19. 3-point field goals: Mialy Brooks 2, D’Andra Kero.