GLADSTONE - A belated basketball opener became a good one for the Ishpeming boys Monday night as they handed the Gladstone Braves a 68-44 loss.
Ishpeming, starting its season nearly three weeks later than most teams, led 35-19 at halftime of the nonconference contest.
"We came out with a lot of energy and made some shots," said Ishpeming coach Jeff Olson, who guided the school's football team to its second straight MHSAA Division 7 football title a month earlier. "I'm surprised we shot so well in the first half. Also, we were 12-of-14 from the free throw line which surprised and impressed me, especially in the first game of the year."
The Braves (1-4) were within 13-8 with three minutes, 23 seconds left in the first quarter when junior forward Andrew Olesak drained a jump shot from the right corner.
Ishpeming responded with a 10-3 run, gaining a 23-11 advantage on a 20-foot jumper from the baseline by senior forward Alex Briones, who will play football at Central Michigan University next fall.
"He (Briones) is a great player," said Braves' coach Dale Hongisto. "He gets a lot of things done. They're just physically stronger than we are. I wasn't expecting them to shoot as well as they did. I thought they would need some time to get rid of some the rust and that didn't happen. They looked like they already had 10 games under their belt."
Ishpeming 68, Gladstone 44
Ishpeming 23 12 16 17 - 68
Gladstone 14 5 7 18 - 44
Ishpeming - Briones 29, Hakkarinen 2, Suardini 2, Millimaki 2, Zhulkie 13, Corp 9, DeCaire 11. FT: 12-14; F: 17; Fouled out: Olgren; 3-point field goals: Briones 2, Zhulkie, DeCaire.
Gladstone - Stenson 3, Mahoney 2, Hunter 3, Dykowski 13, King 2, Groleau 5, Peterson 6, Olesak 10. FT: 12-17; F: 11; Fouled out: None; 3-point field goals: Peterson 2, Olesak 2, Groleau.
For the most part, Gladstone was able to keep its deficit in single digits until midway through the second quarter when it trailed 27-18 following a free throw by senior forward Jared Hunter.
But Ishpeming didn't allow the Braves to stay in that neighborhood much longer as they finished the second quarter with an 8-1 run for its 35-19 cushion at the intermission.
Gladstone often had difficulty working the ball inside against the Hematites, who employed a variety of man-to-man and zone defenses.
"Defensively, we got a little tired in the second half," said Olson. "We try to keep the ball out of the paint. We're going to be a work in progress, but I thought we did it well tonight."
Briones finished with 29 points. Senior guards Bobby Zhulkie and Derek DeCaire added 13 and 11, respectively. Ozzy Corp, a 6-foot-5 sophomore forward, had nine.
David Dykowski, a 6-4 senior center, led the Braves with 13 points, Olesak had 10.
"Dykowski and Olesak had nice games," said Hongisto. "We had 13 turnovers in the first half and at least half of those were unforced errors on our part. We have work to do, but we're getting closer to being a good team."
Ishpeming held a 28-22 rebounding advantage, hit 22-of-60 field goals and committed 13 turnovers. The Braves were 13-of-44 from the floor and finished with 21 miscues.
"We obviously have some physical kids from football," said Olson. "Only, we got a little tired in the second half and gave up a few rebounds."
Gladstone, which also dropped the JV game 75-36, hosts Mid Peninsula Thursday. Ishpeming travels to L'Anse on Friday.