Olesak powers Braves past sluggish Flivvers

KINGSFORD – Gladstone snapped out of a sluggish first half and downed Kingsford 61-52 in Great Northern Conference boys basketball Thursday.

The Braves, leading 24-22 at halftime, gained some breathing room in the third quarter when Jared Hunter nailed back-to-back threes and 6-foot-4 junior Andrew Olesak remained a force underneath.

“The first half we played brutally,” said Gladstone Coach Dale Hongisto, citing unforced turnovers and missed lay-ups. “We had nothing going in the first half.

“For a three-minute stretch we missed five bunnies in a row. It was kind of scary.”

Hunter’s triples provided Gladstone with a 34-28 lead at 5:12 of the third quarter. Kingsford could move no closer than four points for the rest of the contest.

Coach Dan Olkkonen, his Flivvers idle since Dec. 20, found the contest frustrating.

“We come in, work hard and battle pretty good in practice,” Olkkonen said. “We just haven’t gelled. We don’t have that cohesiveness on what we need to do.

“You play as hard as you can and we’re not clicking. We couldn’t get into our offense and that was a frustrating part, too.”

Olesak, playing his best game according to Hongisto, collected a team-high 21 points with seven rebounds.

“He stepped up at the right time,” said Hongisto, noting a 10-for-13 field goal mark. “That was beautiful.”

Tyler Wells added 11 points with his usual three steals; Hunter wound up with 11 points, and Justin Jurek tallied seven assists.

Hunter connected on two of Gladstone four triple attempts. That was all part of the strategy attacking a Kingsford zone.

“Those were absolutely huge,” Hongisto said of Hunter’s threes. “The last three days we talked about playing against the zone and not bombing up threes. That was excellent.”

Daniel Harrington led Kingsford with 22 points and Noah Voss had 10. While the Braves worked inside freely, the Flivver backcourt also shared some of the blame.

“We’re undersized a little bit right now in the middle and they had real big guys in the middle,” Olkkonen said. “Our defensive play on the guards wasn’t as good as it needed to be. They penetrated and made our post players come up.”

In the final two minutes, Gladstone held off Kingsford with Jurek draining six straight free throws and Hunter one.

“They’re listening and getting better,” said Hongisto, his Braves credited with three of their 13 turnovers in the second half. “The kids stayed the course. We made a couple little adjustments at halftime and we got it done in the second half.

“I’m extremely pleased. That’s a Great Northern Conference win on the road. We needed a win badly.”

Kingsford shot 34 percent from the floor and racked up 21 turnovers for the game.

“We’ve got a younger team and it’s a learning process all the way through this season,” Olkkonen said. “In a conference game it hurts a little bit more. We just came up short.”

On Tuesday, Gladstone (3-4, 1-2 GNC) visits Gwinn and Kingsford (1-4, 0-2) heads to Iron Mountain.

The Flivvers won the junior varsity (75-49) and freshmen (54-50) games.