ESCANABA - The Escanaba Eskymos made Kingsford work for their points Friday night. Defending relentlessly from the perimeter and wearing the Flivvers down in the paint were key to the Eskymos coming out on top 53-51 in the Great Northern Conference opener for both teams.
"Our first key tonight was pressuring," said Escanaba coach Tracy Hudson. "That was our game plan. We felt like we could play at a higher tempo. We felt like if the game slowed up, they had the size advantage. They were bigger and stronger. We went deep in our bench and tried to keep it uptempo for 32 minutes."
Still, even while playing good clean defense, Esky was fortunate to come out with a win. Pieces had to fall in place, free throws had to be made and perhaps even a little bit of luck was involved.
Keith Shelton |?Daily Press
Escanaba’s Sam Molnar shoots in the fourth quarter as Kingsford’s Aidan?Wienke defends Friday night at Escanaba.?The Eskymos won 53-51.
Keith Shelton | Daily Press
Escanaba's Ben Kleiman takes a jump shot as Aidan Wienke gets a hand up Friday night at Escanaba.
Kingsford led for nearly the entire game as its size advantage was apparent early and often. Caleb Harrington and Aidan Wienke got a lot of tough points in the paint, but not enough.
"The ball just didn't go in the hole," lamented Kingsford coach Dan Olkkonen. "With the opportunities we had and the shot selection we took, I think we took pretty good shots, they just didn't go in. We rebounded well to keep those chances alive. Maybe it just came down to the pressure of being in a GNC game."
There certainly were pressure moments.
Kingsford 19 12 11 9 - 51
Escanaba 14 11 13 15 - 53
KINGSFORD - Baldwin 7, Harrington 12, Swanson 3, Allen 9, Wienke 14, Michaud 6. FT: 9-16; F: 14; Fouled out: None; 3-point field goals: Harrington, Swanson, Allen 2.
ESCANABA - Macon 3, Kleiman 16, Molnar 12, Robinette 14, LaPalm 5, Falish 3. FT: 7-11; F: 17; Fouled out: None; 3-point field goals: Macon, Kleiman 2, Molnar 2, Falish.
Kingsford clung to a 42-38 lead entering the fourth quarter. Dave Falish hit a triple to open the final eight minutes of play. Gabe Swanson answered with a trey of his own before Esky's Ben Kleiman nailed a triple. With 1:25 remaining, Kingsford still led 49-48. After Harrrington made a free throw, Sam Molnar, who also hit a buzzer triple from halfcourt at the end of the first half, tied the game up with 27 seconds remaining. It then came down to free throws. Brandon Robinette made both of his with 17 seconds remaining. Harrington only made one of his. With seven ticks left on the clock, Dan LaPalm made one of his and Esky led 53-51 with four seconds left. Kingsford took a time out and went for the three, which bounced off the rim and into Escanaba's hands to end the game.
Prior to all that, two key unforced turnovers helped turn the game in Escanaba's favor. An errant pass went flew out of bounds and the ball bounced off a Kingsford player's foot and rolled out of bounds on the other.
"the fourth quarter turnovers with the aggressive style Esky plays on defense and us not being able to take care of the ball just let them right back in it," said Olkkonen.
The hero of the night, though there were many at key times, may have been Robinette, who took the tough assignment in the fourth quarter, driving inside against Weinke.
"We iced Robinette out front, put him down low and said OK, who can guard him. We didn't do that early because we didn't want him to get in foul trouble," said Hudson. We put him in an isolation situation with everyone out top and we let him go one-on-one with Weinke. We felt like he had an advantage against any big guy guarding him. Brandon did a great job tonight."
Olkkonen said despite having shooting troubles (they were 19-of-53) they had a gameplan they liked.
"We were happy when we saw what kind of style Esky was playing. We practiced for that (getting points in the paint) because they like to pressure the wings a lot," he said. "I don't know that I've been in a game where we missed more inside close shots like that. It's not that the kids aren't good shooters, they just set themselves up where it's a pressure situation. We have to learn from it and move on."
Escanaba (1-1, 1-0 GNC), which won the jayvee game 62-59 and dropped the freshman game 54-51 travels to Houghton Monday while Kingsford travels to Negaunee Tuesday.