Basketball game at Canton brief reprieve from sorrow for Howell boys

·4 min read

CANTON — Nothing can replace the loss of two classmates, but at least for 32 minutes Tuesday night Howell’s boys basketball players could have a semblance of normalcy.

Howell's Danny Honkala scores two of his team-high 11 points in a 52-45 loss to Canton on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022.
Howell's Danny Honkala scores two of his team-high 11 points in a 52-45 loss to Canton on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022.

Playing a game against Canton allowed the Highlanders to temporarily escape the pervasive sense of sorrow around school following the deaths of students Josh Pennala and Len Eskola in a vehicle crash Saturday night.

A moment of silence was held in memory of Pennala and Eskola before the game.

“It was a tough loss for the Howell community,” Howell senior Honkala said following a 52-45 loss to Canton. “I know their families pretty well.”

Counselors, social workers and therapy dogs were brought to the Howell 10-12 and freshman buildings to help students cope with the tragedy.

“It’s been kind of tough,” Howell senior Carter Bandemer said. “Obviously, it’s tough to be around a bunch of people. It’s always kind of sad around there. We’re here as a family, we’re here together and we’ve got each other’s backs.”

Howell's Adam Jones drives for two of his 10 points in a 52-45 loss to Canton on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022.
Howell's Adam Jones drives for two of his 10 points in a 52-45 loss to Canton on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022.

Noting that Honkala was one of the players most affected by the students’ deaths, veteran Howell coach Nick Simon said his performance given the circumstances was “as impressive as anything I’ve seen since I’ve been here.”

Honkala was scoreless in the first half, as Howell had trouble getting the ball inside to the 6-foot-5 center. He scored eight points in the third quarter, helping the Highlanders cut a 22-14 halftime deficit to 28-26. He finished with 11 points.

“The kid’s been battling a lot of stuff the last two days,” Simon said. “For him to be able to put on that performance is a testament to the kind of guy he is.”

Seeing their big man successfully attacking the basket gave a boost to the Highlanders.

“There’s certain guys that people just follow,” Simon said. “You don’t know why. That’s Danny. He always has been. Whatever he’s doing, people tend to follow. Whenever he’s on a roll, man, it really seems like the team gets behind him quickly.”

Honkala spread the credit for Howell’s third-quarter turnaround to his teammates.

Canton's Cole Vickers, who had a game-high 17 points, hit a 3-pointer while defended by Howell's Brevin Weller (0) and Carter Bandemer (14) on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022.
Canton's Cole Vickers, who had a game-high 17 points, hit a 3-pointer while defended by Howell's Brevin Weller (0) and Carter Bandemer (14) on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022.

“I’m not just the only guy,” he said. “We’ve got Carter, Adam (Jones), Ryan (Cirella), Brevin (Weller), Nolan (Petru); I can name everyone on our team. If anyone hits big shots, then everyone’s feeling it.”

Howell was never able to take the lead in the second half, but was still keeping the heat on the Chiefs when a steal and layup by Honkala with less than six minutes remaining in the game cut the deficit to 37-35.

The teams then began trading baskets. Unfortunately for the Highlanders, Canton was hitting 3-pointers while they were getting only two points per bucket.

Lake McIntosh, Omar Suleiman and Cole Vickers hit 3-pointers during a 9-4 run that gave Canton a 46-39 lead with 3:09 to go.

“It was Lake, Cole and Omar,” Canton coach Jimmy Reddy said. “Omar has a big-time shot. He hasn’t made a 3 in what seems like a while. He has a nice touch and can shoot it and score. He had 12 points off the bench against Salem Friday night. He’s given us that extra scorer off the bench we need.

“Our balance has been much better lately, and it needs to be, because people are keyed in on Cole. Obviously, people are going to have a plan for him. Other guys have to step up and score.”

The Chiefs put away the game by going 6-for-6 from the line in the final minute.

Canton has won seven consecutive games, all in KLAA West play, since beginning the season with an 0-4 record in nonconference games.

The Chiefs hit the midway mark of the division schedule at 7-0, with Hartland (5-1) and Howell (5-2) their closest pursuers.

“We talked about this being a big game for both ends of it, because we get to 7-0 and you give Howell their second loss,” Reddy said. “It’s still early, obviously, but we like the position we’re in. There are seven more tough games to come down the road here.”

Bandemer and Jones had 10 points each for Howell (6-4 overall).

Vickers had 17 points, McIntosh 16 and Dante Favor nine for Canton.

Contact Bill Khan at wkhan@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @BillKhan.

This article originally appeared on Livingston Daily: Basketball game at Canton brief reprieve from sorrow for Howell boys

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