Gremlins make long trip count in Escanaba

ESCANABA – The No. 2-ranked Houghton Gremlins gave little credence to the Escanaba Eskymos’ solid all-around performance Friday night.

Showing they were every bit as good as their 13-1 record coming in, the Gremlins dominated on the floor. They got points in bunches, in transition and from the three-point arc and led from start to finish in a 64-38 non-conference victory.

“Our girls get after it on the defensive end and that also creates opportunities,” said Gremlins’ coach Julie Filpus. “We stress every day the importance of running the floor and accelerating and pushing the ball, and we did get some nice fast break points.”

The game within the game was huge as well. Escanaba’s Michelle LaFave and Houghton’s Elisa Jurmu put on a dazzling offensive display throughout.

LaFave impressed with some nice no-look layups and putbacks while Jurmu displayed a shot that was smooth as silk and just as accurate.

LaFave finished with a career-high 25 points and nine rebounds, while Jurmu came away with a 24-point effort. Each easily led their respective teams in scoring.

“Michelle is a player. We don’t give her a break and I think her and Jurmu really put on a good performance offensively tonight,” said Escanaba coach Kelly O’Connell. “Michelle is working so hard out there. She’s a gamer and she puts a lot of time in. Jurmu, you can try and stop her, but Houghton has three or four other girls that are going to hurt you. I have to praise them, they’re just a very, very good basketball team.”

Of Jurmu, Filpus said, “She’s a competitor. She gives up a bit in size, but we never allow the girls to use that as an excuse. She’s averaging about 21 points per game.”

The Gremlins opened the game with a triple from the top of the key from Kelsie Richards. It was the first of six from downtown for the hot-shooting Gremlins, and they often came at key points in the game.

“It seems like we’ve been in the range of five-to-seven three-pointers a game and tonight we were right in the middle with six,” Flipus said. “I thought they were very timely three-pointers as well. Alexa Johnson hit a big one late in the second quarter and Ashlyn Kero hit one in the third quarter after Escanaba had cut our lead down to 14.”

Thanks to solid defense from players like Ashley Cook and Lynsey Collins, the Eskymos were able to keep within eight points after the first quarter, but the Gremlins quickly expanded their lead to 15 just 94 seconds into the second quarter. Richards was fouled from three-point land, making two of them and Natalie Datto followed with a triple to start the quarter off. The Gremlins went into the half with a 32-14 lead and basically coasted from there.

“Houghton is probably the best defensive team you’re going to see in the Upper Peninsula. They’re so long and athletic,” said O’Connell. “We gave them some points in transition and they get up and down the floor so very well. Their transition game is outstanding. We tried to slow them down with some zone presses and I thought we played a very good game.

“I’d like us to be a little more patient on offense but a team like that is going to make you rush a little bit because they’re in the passing lanes.”

Despite the Eskymos getting decent looks in the first half, they had just 14 points to show for it, with 12 of those points being scored by LaFave and the other two coming on two Collins’ free throws.

LaFave’s performance was the one thorn in Filpus’ side Friday night.

“We’re definitely not happy with the work we did on LaFave tonight and we’ll have to address that in practice, but she did have a nice game. She shot the ball well and rebounded well,” Filpus said.

Houghton (14-1) hosts top-ranked Marquette Monday night in a showdown of top teams.