Eskymos bring the pressure, overcome Mountaineers

ESCANABA – The Escanaba Eskymos had the proper response to a hot start by Iron Mountain Tuesday night, coming away with a 55-45 non-conference victory. The final score could have just as easily read speed and athleticism 55, size and strength 45.

Sam Molnar dazzled with a couple toss-up layups running along the baseline, Jamie Hiltunen drained a couple triples at the right time and Brandon Robinette did what he does best, driving inside and drawing fouls and the Eskymos held off the big and physical Mountaineers.

Iron Mountain defied what their scouting report showed in the first quarter. Escanaba packed the paint early, and the Mountaineers kicked it out repeatedly to CJ Qualley who drained four triples in the first eight minutes.

“CJ got us off to a great start,” said IM head coach Harvey Johnson. “One of the challenges I put to them was to get us out to a great start and they accomplished that. They were honed in.”

Escanaba head coach Tracy Hudson said Qualley’s shooting caught him off guard.

“Put it on me in the first half,” he said. “We trusted the scouting report and packed it in (defensively). I didn’t think they were good outside shooters, but they came out and did a good job.”

The Mountaineers led 19-7 after the first quarter. Then, the Eskymos ramped up the pressure.

From the second quarter on, Esky switched to their man defense and eventually extended to a full-court press, and it got results. Iron Mountain turned the ball over 23 times and the Eskymos capitalized.

Hiltunen got Esky back in it, hitting back to back three-pointers at the start of the second, helping to neutralize Qualley. It was just another case of Hiltunen coming up big when his team needed him.

“He’s sneaky,” said Eskymos head coach Tracy Hudson. “Jamie does that in big games, and Sam Molnar really attacked the basket. We had great guard play from those two.”

Iron Mountain held a 18-15 lead after HIltunen’s two treys, and responded with back to back driving buckets from Jake Thomann down low. Thomann and Zach Caudell, the Mountaineer’s 6-foot-5 twin towers were a force throughout and made life difficult for Escanaba in their 2-3 and 3-2 zones.

“Iron Mountain is very good and they have some very imposing big guys down low, and they did a great job,” said Hudson. “They had the high-low thing going on from the free-throw line down.”

The Eskymos reversed the first quarter and had a 26-26 tie at the half. They then came out of the half and continued with full court pressure. Eventually, the Mountaineers started giving up unforced errors.

“We competed, but you can’t turn the ball over 20 times and expect to win. That was a key to the game,” said Johnson. “It was a hard-fought battle and a tight game, but the turnovers were costly and Esky capitalized on some of them. We got in some good situations and made some good plays, but we didn’t make enough of them, and Esky did.”

Qualley led IM (7-6) with 16 points. Thomann scored 11 and Caudell added 10.

The Eskymos were led by Robinette’s 24 points and nine rebounds, Hiltunen added 10. For much of the game, Robinette was the best player on the court, frustrating Caudell defensively while unleashing an array of nice moves to get inside.

“Robinette is a fantastic player. He’s long and there’s not a whole lot of guys that can play the perimeter and play a guy in the post,” said Johnson.

Iron Mountain won the jayvee game 62-45 and the freshman game 56-45.

Escanaba (10-3), which shot 31-for-47 (65 percent) from the floor, travels to top-ranked Marquette Friday night.

“We have an opportunity to play for a (Great Northern Conference) championship,” Hudson said of facing the Redmen. The Eskymos GNC record is 5-1. The Redmen are 5-0 in the GNC.