Houghton falls to Escanaba

Houghton’s Brad Sirard (13) heads down the baseline as Escanaba’s Jared Nash defends in Tuesday night’s game in Escanaba. (Mike Mattson/ Daily Press)

ESCANABA — This is shaping up as Basketball Rivalry Week in the Upper Peninsula.

For example, Houghton travels to Hancock Thursday and Escanaba visits Gladstone Friday in a couple of games that will heat up gyms in those communities.

“I think the kids are excited,” Escanaba coach Tracy Hudson said about Gladstone shortly after the host Eskymos defeated Houghton 71-45 Tuesday night. “We want to go over and play a good clean basketball game with a lot of sportsmanship and we want to play up to our potential. We think when we play the way that we can, we can play with anybody and we can beat anybody.”

The Eskymos warmed up for Gladstone by beating a young, gritty Houghton squad. The Gremlins will be anxious for their rivalry game against Hancock and thankful they won’t see Ryan Robinette or a tenacious 1-3-1 defense that gave them fits Tuesday night.

Robinette, Esky’s seasoned senior 6-foot-3 point guard, erupted for 31 points, five assists and four steals to lead the Eskymos (3-0) in their home opener.

“He’s been tough the last three years we’ve played them.” Houghton coach Jared Lawson said. “You have to be aware of where he is on the floor at all times. What did he end up with, (31 points)? That is a big difference in the game.”

Robinette hit two of his five 3-pointers at the start of the game as Esky took control and built a 16-6 first-quarter advantage. He made 5 of 8 3-point shots and was 13 of 18 overall from the field. He also had 10 deflections from his point position in the 1-3-1 zone defense.

“The hoop was big for Ryan tonight,” Hudson said. “He was hitting the 3. He was getting to the basket and he had five assists. I don’t know if he’s had a better game. He’s had some great games for me, but that was definitely one of his top two or three games.”

Jared Nash chipped in with 14 points and four rebounds and Peyton Fedell and Austin Willette added seven points apiece for Esky. Craig Kamin also had five assists for the Eskymos.

Houghton (1-2) countered with its one-two punch of sophomore Brad Sirard (21 points, six assists) and junior George Butvilas (18 points), with Bruce Scott dishing off five assists.

Esky shot 60 percent from the field, out-rebounded Houghton 20-16 and had only five turnovers, while the Gremlins shot 48 percent from the field with 15 turnovers.

The Gremlins trailed 36-21 at halftime and couldn’t get into a flow on offense, especially trying to solve Esky’s 1-3-1.

Lawson said Escanaba’s height and long arms created problems like it has for most of Esky’s opponents this season. Overall, the Eskymos finished with 11 steals and 30 deflections in their trademark defense.

“They have such great length and they’ve had it the last couple of years,” Lawson said. “It’s tough for us. (Sirard) is 6-5 and we decided to move him to the point to see over Robinette. I thought that helped us a little more than the past when we played them.

“They run that 1-3-1 trap very well. We knew coming in we would have our hands full and we had to play as close to a very good game as possible. We see a lot of zones up in the Copper Country, but we don’t see the length.”

Esky went up by 18 points in the third quarter before Sirard and Butvilas led a 10-2 run that cut the deficit to 45-35. But Robinette took the air out of Houghton’s comeback balloon when he drilled two straight 3-pointers and Esky had control again with a 52-38 lead after three quarters.

The Eskymos gradually pulled away in the fourth quarter as Houghton boarded the bus for a long return trip home and Esky turned its thoughts to Gladstone.

“There was a point in the third quarter Escanaba started to pull away,” Lawson said. “I was proud of my guys for pulling it back in within 10. In the past, we’ve always seen that lead get away from us and it gets to a blowout. Today we fought hard as a young team, and that’s good for a team that’s learning.”

Added Hudson: “(Gladstone) isn’t a do or die game for us. We have the whole season, but it’s definitely a good opportunity early in the year to see where we’re at against probably what is one of the top two teams in the U.P. It’s a good measuring stick for us.”

– – –

Houghton 6 15 17 7 — 45

Escanaba 16 20 16 19 — 71

Houghton — Butvilas 18, Majlessi 5, Sirard 21, Scott 1. FT: 6-11; F: 8. 3-point field goals: Butvilas 4, Sirard 2, Majlessi.

Escanaba –Robinette 31, Fedall 7, LaMarche 2, Kamin 6, Willis 4, Nash 14, Willette 7. FT: 4-8; F: 13; 3-point field goals: Robinette 5, Fedell, Kamin.