Escanaba boys basketball beats Norway in nail-biting home opener

Escanaba senior David Romps (in white) attempts to muscle a layup attempt past a pair of Norway defenders during a game on Dec. 11, 2023 at Escanaba High School.

ESCANABA –Last time Esky boys basketball played it took a loss. But Monday night, it bounced back.

The Eskymos defeated Norway 69-65 for its 2023-24 home opener.

“A win goes a long way here,” Esky coach Scott Hanson said. “If we would’ve lost that one I think a loss goes a long way. You can’t say there’s a must win in December, but that was about as close to a must win as we’re gonna get.”

With the game tied at 63 with under 45 seconds left, Esky junior Jackson Cousineau put the orange and black ahead, hitting a bank shot to go up 65-63 and force a Norway timeout with 39.1 seconds left.

The late shot wasn’t the only time Cousineau made an impact on Monday night.

With Esky holding a 40-38 lead late in the third frame, Cousineau began to produce on the offensive end.

The junior guard drained a shot from downtown and added a floater which banked off the backboard and through the net. It was a 5-1 Cousineau run that gave the Eskymos a 45-39 lead late in the third.

All of his efforts came on a night where Hanson wasn’t even sure if Cousineau’s availability on Monday night was guaranteed.

“Jackson wasn’t feeling well the last two days. Yesterday at practice he was a little bit under the weather,” Hanson said of Cousineau. “I didn’t know if I was going to have him today. Early in the game I watched his minutes. I didn’t want to go too long with them.

“I can’t believe he played the game he did today.”

The Knights clapped back with a 5-2 run with a layup and 3-point play with a layup and free throw from junior Cole Baij, sandwiched between a David Romps layup, to keep the visitors within three points at 47-44 entering the fourth frame.

Then Norway’s Alex Ortman caught fire.

The senior earned three points off an and-1 opportunity to tie the game at 47. Junior Javon Stevenson connected from inside the paint. His efforts were matched by an Ortman layup.

Esky sophomore Lennox Peacock connected from 3-point land for a 52-49 lead. Ortman responded by nailing back-to-back 3-point shots for a 55-52 lead off the 11-5 Ortman run.

Stevenson drained a pair of free throws to pull within one point. Romps earned a steal and darted coast to coast with Ortman trailing close behind.

Romps put up a layup. Ortman leaped in hopes of blocking Romps’ shot. Ortman viciously connected with the backboard, but missed the ball to draw a goaltending foul and give the Eskymos a 56-55 lead with 5:35 to go.

There, it was an intense back and forth for the next five minutes.

Esky senior Shane Wallin knocked down a pair of free throws for a three-point lead. Baij connected from 3-point range and Ortman hit 1-of-2 free throws for a 59-58 lead, forcing an Esky timeout with 4:13 to go.

Norway’s advantage grew to 61-58 with junior Mason Trudeau mustered his heavily contested layup to go in. Esky clapped back with a Wallin layup and a pair of Stevenson free throws to go up 62-61. Baij connected from the paint for the Knights to go up 63-62. Wallin hit one of two free throws to tie the game at 63 and force a Norway timeout with 1:20 left.

Then Cousineau connected with his shot to take a 65-63 lead. Wallin nailed a free throw to go up 66-63. Trudeau drew a foul and made both free throws to pull back to 66-65 with 17.7 seconds left.

Romps drew a foul on the ensuing possession and drained both free throws to go up 68-65 with 14.6 seconds left.

Norway senior Ian Popp attempted to drive to the hole with the aspirations of finding an open teammate for a corner 3-point shot. But the Eskymos clamped down on the perimeter, forcing Popp to take an ugly shot.

After a brief mad scramble, Esky senior Ben Johnson recovered the loose ball and drew a foul with 4.5 seconds left. The senior drained one of his free throws to ultimately seal the Eskymo win.

“We told them in the locker that I thought their effort was fantastic,” Norway coach Jeff Gallino said. ” We made too many mental errors during the course of the game, but we hung in there with our effort. That was nice to see.”

Despite falling to 3-1 on the season, the Knights found ways to keep their composure despite playing in a loud environment against a school five times its size.

The Knights were not intimidated.

“That’s something we stress,” Gallino said. “It doesn’t matter where we play. We’re going to come in and work as hard as we can. And I thought we did a nice job with that tonight.”

Wallin led all scorers with 20 points. Stevenson added 14 points. Peacock totaled 11 points. Romps finished with eight points. Cousineau earned seven points. Johnson finished with five points. Junior Cody Noel earned four points.

Ortman led the Knights with 19 points. Baij tallied 18 points. Popp finished with 10 points. Trudeau added nine points. Junior Bryce Adam earned five points. Junior AJ Gallino and sophomore Anthony Pineda earned two points each.

The Eskymos (3-2) return to action to host Bark River-Harris (1-1) on Dec. 21. The Knights (3-1) host Iron Mountain (4-0) at 7:15 p.m. Friday.


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