A defensive grind: Hillman hangs on to defeat Hurons in NSL tilt

Hillman hangs on to defeat Hurons in NSL tilt

News Photo by Jonny Zawacki Rogers City’s Ethan Hincka (24) goes in for a layup between Hillman defenders Kory Henigan (40) and Nic Taratuta (42) during a North Star League boys basketball game on Thursday at Rogers City High School.

ROGERS CITY — Thursday’s early season North Star League clash between Rogers City and Hillman had a different feel to it.

The Hurons entered the matchup 2-0, while the Tigers were coming off of a season-opening loss.

Both teams displayed strong defense throughout the contest, but the offense was missing and a majority of the points were created at the charity stripe as there were a total of 51 free-throws attempted between the two teams.

While the Hurons’ defense kept them in the game, for the first time in a long time, this isn’t your typical run-and-gun, high powered Hillman offense.

Instead the Tigers slowed the pace down, continued to play an intense press defense and erased a six point fourth quarter deficit, remaining calm under pressure which proved to be the difference in the game as Hillman was able to defeat the Hurons 46-41.

“One thing I am happy with is that we are playing very well defensively. Graduating what we did offensively from last year, about 80 percent of our scoring, it’s going to take time for us to get into a good flow offensively and I think we keep taking baby steps toward becoming a better offensive team,” Hillman coach Eric Muszynski said. “I thought we were a little stagnant today. We did a little too much standing around on the offensive end and we weren’t getting many of the easy points and traditionally at Hillman we get a lot of easy points off of our press and half court defense, but these guys are more of a clock management, possession type group right now. I’m super happy with our start right now. I would have liked to beat Oscoda at home, but I’m starting to see good things and we’ll continue to mature and grow offensively, it’s just going to take time.”

Both teams played a tight first half.

After being tied at seven after one quarter, Rogers City had opportunities throughout the half to take a lead into the break, but it was Hillman who held a 21-18 lead despite the Hurons taking 19 free-throw attempts to Hillman’s two.

Rogers City came out of the break and made things difficult for the Hillman offense and the Hurons held the visitors to just one third quarter point and took a 28-22 lead into the fourth quarter and gained some momentum against their NSL rival; a team they have struggled against in recent years.

“I was proud of the way we played defense. We really locked down and did a good job for about three and a half quarters. Hillman has a lot of guys who have experience. They have young guards this year, but when you still have a few players that have been there for three to four years, it helps and you could tell that was the difference tonight,” Rogers City coach Matt Ponik said. “We haven’t really been in too many positions over the years where we have had to close out games. Hillman has had more experience and know(s) what to do and what not to do during crunch time and we made a few bad decisions late that hurt us. I’m honestly so proud of my guys, but we just have to work on our offense a little.”

The early stages of the fourth quarter showed the difference between a program that has been in key moments in big games and a program that is trying to get there as Hillman opened the fourth quarter with 10 unanswered points to take a lead.

Despite a wild finish, Hillman never surrendered the lead.

“When we got down we started to attack more offensively. We started to put the ball on the floor more and hit the gaps, during that final stretch I think you saw that,” Muszynski said. “Being tested early is a great thing. So far through two games we’ve ran into two of the top teams in the Big-Dipper in my mind and we played well. I’m feeling pretty well heading into next week.”

After taking a 32-28 lead with under five minutes to play in the game, thanks to two big shots, including a three from senior Nic Taratuta, Hillman slowed the pace down, and knocked down a few big shots as both teams went back-and-forth in the final minutes of the game.

Nash Steinke and Taratuta hit a pair of threes to extend Hillman’s lead to 38-33 with 1:28 seconds left.

The Tigers made the most of their trips to the free-throw line late and made 4-of-5 to extend the lead to 42-35 with under a minute to play.

Rogers City kept battling and cut into the lead.

Trailing 43-37 after Ethan Holford split a pair of free-throws, Rogers City’s Nick Freel made two free-throws and the Hurons stole the inbound and Lewis Fleming scored on a layup to bring the score to 43-41 with 22 seconds left and bring the Rogers City bench and crowd to its feet.

Kory Henigan split a pair of free-throws after Rogers City fouled, but the Hurons couldn’t cash in at the stripe late and Henigan made the final two free-throws to put the game on ice and secure the Hillman win.

Taratuta led all scorers with 12 points and Henigan added 11 points in the win. Nash Steinke collected six points and Jacob Morrison and Caleb Sanders each chipped in with five points for the Tigers.

Rogers City was paced by J.D. Ellenberger who scored a team high 10 points. Nick Freel and Lewis Fleming finished with eight points apiece and Matt Newhouse added seven points.

Hillman improves to 1-1 on the year and will travel to Whittemore-Prescott on Monday.

The Hurons drop their first game and are 2-1 and will be back in action on Monday at Hale.


BOX SCORE: Field goals made/Free-throws made/Free-throws attempted/Total points

HILLMAN (46): C. Sanders, 1 2-2 5; S. Henigan, 1 0-0 2; C. Koenig, 1 0-0 2; E. Holford, 0 1-2 1; G. Mellingen, 1 0-1 2; N. Steinke, 1 3-4 6; J. Morrison, 2 0-0 5; K. Henigan, 3 5-7 11; N. Taratuta, 4 1-5 12.

ROGERS CITY (41): N. Freel, 2 4-4 8; E. Hincka, 1 1-2 3; J.D. Ellenberger, 3 3-5 10; M. Newhouse, 2 3-7 7; L. Fleming, 1 6-8 8; D. Flewelling, 0 1-2 1; C. Streich, 0 1-2 1; K. Budnick, 1 0-0 2.