Miners reach goal

ESCANABA – The Negaunee boys have a goal in mind everytime they walk onto the basketball court.

That goal is to hold their opponent to less than 40 points.

The Miners, using a tight man-to-man defense, did just that Wednesday night in a 60-22 rout of Houghton in a Class C regional final at the Escanaba High School gym.

“The guys are buying into that philosophy and this group has been very steady with that,” said Negaunee coach Mike O’Donnell. “They take a lot of pride in their defense. They haven’t had an off night on defense all year.”

The victory sends Negaunee (23-1) to Gaylord where it will face Maple City Glen Lake in a state quarterfinal contest Tuesday at 7 p.m. The Gremlins finished 15-8.

Houghton was within 8-5 with three minutes, 20 seconds left in the first quarter when senior forward Zackary Ohtonen converted a layup and free throw.

But the Miners responded with a 13-0 run, gaining a 21-5 advantage on a steal and fast break layup by junior point guard Tyler Jandron early in the second stanza.

“We try to use our defense to set up our offense,” said Jandron, who led the Miners with 20 points. “We like to try to shut teams down. We have great shooters. If we’re hitting, we can get on a roll. When we’re not hitting, we have (Brock) Weaver inside.”

Houghton trimmed its deficit to 21-8 on a 10-foot jump shot and free throw by junior guard Ryan LaBerge with 5:32 left in the second stanza. Negaunee, however, didn’t allow the Gremlins to get any closer.

“We had to have our best shooting night to have a chance to beat them and instead we had our worst shooting night,” said Houghton coach Jared Lawson. “Their man-to-man absolutely effected our shots. Our guys couldn’t find the basket. Negaunee also does a great job getting fast break and transition points. Once they see a steal, they have two guys down the floor. They just do a great job. I think they’re good enough to take the state title.”

Negaunee sank 25-of-63 field goals while the Gremlins were a frigid 8-of-58 from the floor.

“We were trying to force them to the 3-point line and funnel them into the lane,” said O’Donnell. “We felt they weren’t real comfortable doing that with our 6-foot-6 guy (Weaver) underneath.”

Junior guard Eric Lori added 13 points for the Miners, who outscored Houghton 24-10 in the third quarter for a 49-18 advantage.

“Eric had a great game,” said Jandron. “It was nice to see him to pick it up after Monday night (when he scored three points in a 64-37 triumph over Harbor Springs). He just had to forget about that night. Eric is a very good athlete. We need him out there.”

The teams went nearly three minutes without scoring. Lori finally broke the ice by sneaking through the backdoor for a layup for the game’s first points.

“Houghton played a stingy 2-1-2 zone,” said O’Donnell. “They were flying around and we weren’t hitting early. The run at the end of the first quarter helped settle our guys down. You’re always more comfortable when you get a lead.”

The Miners committed eight turnovers compared to 14 for Houghton.

“It was nice to see that come down,” said O’Donnell. “We were a got a little careless the other night.”

LaBerge scored 10 points and junior guard Trent Keteri had three steals for the Gremlins.

“We’re absolutely proud of our season,” said Lawson. “Our seniors did a great job leading this team. We told the underclassmen they have a second chance next year.”