Three-point shooting is usually not the first thing that enters the mind when it comes to discussing the Calumet Copper Kings. Instead, it’s their suffocating man-to-man defense, the All-U.P. caliber season Matt Ojala has been having or the overpowering low-post presence of Cooper Twardzik.
So while it may not be an officially kept stat, Calumet has likely faced more zone defenses than any other team in the area this season. But on Tuesday, the Copper Kings finally made their opponents pay for leaving them open on the perimeter, despite their recent cold shooting spell, as they made eight key 3s in a 60-54 West-PAC win over the Houghton Gremlins in Calumet.
Ojala led Calumet with 22 points and eight assists. As for Houghton, sophomore Brad Sirard had 21 points and junior George Butvilas added 18.
“We’ve been struggling for 3 the last few games,” Calumet coach Mike Ojala said. “We didn’t shoot well from 3 down in West Iron and weren’t very good against Lake Linden’s zone, so I was a little worried about that.
“But we’ve been shooting the ball and trying to stay positive. It was great to see the kids knock a few down.”
Making 8 of 21 attempts (38 percent) from 3 won’t have Calumet confused with the Golden State Warriors anytime soon, but the 3s the team made came during critical stretches.
With just under two minutes left in the game, Houghton junior Wes Hyslop converted a 3 to trim Calumet’s lead to 51-48. But the Copper Kings answered when junior Brandon Antilla swished a catch-and-shoot 3 from the corner to push the lead back to 54-48.
Earlier in the fourth quarter, Antilla drilled a 3 from the same spot to give Calumet a 48-41 advantage. Overall, Antilla made 3 of 4 attempts from beyond the arc in the second half, with Ojala assisting to him in the right corner on all three.
“Antilla stepped up when they needed him,” Houghton coach Jared Lawson said. “That’s what you have to do as one of those side players off of Matt. We were paying a little bit too much attention to (Matt), and Antilla is going to make you pay. You can’t just let him set up and hit that 3.”
After the second possession of the game, Calumet (14-5, 6-1) never trailed, thanks to offensive contributions throughout the lineup. Senior Evan Hyrkas entered the game and converted two 3s in the first half to beat Houghton’s matchup zone look.
The Copper Kings led 31-25 at halftime.
“I hope we can keep it rolling,” Mike Ojala said. “Like I told the guys, we’re going to see some variation of zones here for the next four games, starting tonight and going into Thursday (against Hancock) and going into the tournament.
“Part of being successful zone offense-wise, you have to be able to knock some shots down.”
Calumet never led by more than seven as either Butvilas or Sirard typically had a scoring answer to keep Houghton within striking distance.
But the Gremlins (8-11, 4-4) could not get over the hump. Butvilas cut Calumet’s lead to 35-33 in the third, only to see Calumet go on a 7-2 run, capped by a 3 from Matt Ojala from the left wing for a 42-35 lead.
Houghton shot 21 of 46 (46 percent) and had 14 turnovers.
“(Calumet) was hedging out on a lot of screens or coming out to take the passing lane away, and I think it just kind of rattled guys a little bit,” Lawson said. “Our flow wasn’t there as it has been in the last couple games. Even Westwood when we scored 32, I thought we had better flow. Just a little bit out of sorts tonight.”
Calumet sophomore Eli McParlan added two free throws for a 56-48 lead with just over a minute left in the game, and it appeared the outcome was decided. But Sirard came down and swished a 3, then Calumet turned it over on the inbounds pass and Sirard hit another 3 out of a timeout trim Calumet’s lead to 56-54.
Matt Ojala would sink two free throws with 31 seconds left for a 58-54 advantage and put the Calumet faithful at ease.
“It was just weird because there were two or three different times late where I was ready to completely pull the ball out and get them out of that zone,” Mike Ojala said. “It was executing inbound situations, and we had to do four in a row and (Houghton) finally got a turnover on one of them. We just have to be sharper. I got to spend time in practice working on those situational things and make sure we’re sharp in all those situations.”
Calumet finished 20 of 45 from the field (44 percent) and held a 30-25 rebounding advantage.
Next, Calumet goes to Hancock on Thursday. A win will guarantee a share of the West-PAC title. Houghton travels to Marquette on the same day.
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Houghton 13 12 14 15 — 54
Calumet 16 15 14 15 — 60
Houghton — Keskimaki 12, Butvilas 18, Sirard 21, Hyslop 3. F: 19; Fouled out: None; Free throws: 5-9; 3-point field goals: Sirard 5, Hyslop, Butvilas.
Calumet — Matt Ojala 22, Travis Ojala 9, Antilla 10, McParlan 8, Hyrkas 6, Twardzik 5. F: 11; Fouled out: None; Free throws: 12-18; 3-point field goals: Antilla 3, Matt Ojala 2, Hyrkas 2, Travis Ojala.