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Marquette knocks off Escanaba to clinch Great Northern Conference boys basketball title

With Marquette leading 64-57 and 42 seconds left on the clock in the fourth quarter, Marquette’s Kameron Karp, left, steals the ball from Escanaba’s Brandon Frazer and goes on to score an uncontested layup during their Great Northern Conference boys basketball game played at the Redmen gym on Thursday. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

MARQUETTE — With a Great Northern Conference championship on the line, the Escanaba boys basketball team knew it was going to have to go on the road and play a near-perfect game to dethrone Marquette on Thursday night.

The Upper Peninsula’s No. 4-ranked Eskymos (10-6, 5-2 GNC) put forth their best effort and one of their better recent performances, but it still wasn’t enough as the third-ranked Redmen (14-3, 7-1 GNC) led from wire-to-wire to capture a 68-64 victory and their fourth straight GNC title.

Marquette junior point guard Kameron Karp was a thorn in Esky’s side all night, leading all scorers with 27 points to go with four rebounds and three steals. He scored 18 points in the first half, then came up with the big plays in the fourth quarter, including a game-clinching steal and score with 36 seconds left to give the Redmen a 66-57 lead.

“It’s pretty sweet where this game ended up being the GNC championship,” Karp said. “It was a great atmosphere, it was a great game, and it feels great to come out onto our home court with a huge crowd with everyone supporting us.”

It was Marquette’s eighth GNC title in the last nine years. Redmen coach Brad Nelson summed it up in one word.

“Amazing,” he said. “These guys have carried the torch set by a lot of people in front of them. I think this is the eighth time in the last nine years that we’ve won it, so it’s something that we take a lot of pride in. The chips fell in the way that we were able to win it this year.

“Escanaba gave us a championship effort. It was just a great game by both teams, and I wish them the best in districts. They’re great kids as well, but I couldn’t be happier for the group of guys that I have.”

The Eskymos fell behind 10-3 right out of the gate after a triple by Karp with 2:55 left in the first quarter, but then went on an 8-2 run to pull within one point at the end of the period. That was a microcosm of the whole night, as every time it appeared Marquette was going to pull away, the Eskymos fought back.

“I thought our kids fought until the very end,” Esky coach Tracy Hudson said. “It was more like a tournament atmosphere. It felt like a district semifinal. Two teams really wanted it.

“It was probably the youngest team I’ve ever had in a championship game, so I was very happy with how they responded. I thought there were a couple times where we were a little rattled, but we got it back together in the timeouts and kept pushing them until the very end.”

Esky’s biggest problem was turnovers, particularly in the first half. The Eskymos turned it over 17 times throughout the game, but in the second quarter they gave the Redmen too many easy buckets in transition.

“Our turnovers have kind of been a problem the last four to five games,” Hudson said, crediting some of their turnovers to Marquette’s defense. “When we were winning big, we were only committing like eight or nine. We had some turnovers on some lazy passes, and we have to get better at that.”

Esky trailed 31-24 after a steal and score by Karp with 2:22 left in the first half, but then went on a 7-2 run to go into halftime trailing just 33-31.

After the Redmen began the second half on an 11-2 run to go up 44-33, Esky closed to within 50-46 at the end of the third quarter. Brandon Frazer pulled the Eskymos within 52-49 with a triple from the top of the key just 30 seconds into the final frame, but that’s as close as they would get.

“I thought our kids fought hard,” Hudson said. “We were here to win a championship…. It’s hard to lose to Marquette. We kept telling the kids, ‘You’re right there, you’re right there.’ You can almost feel it, but we couldn’t get over the hump against a really good basketball team tonight.”

Esky placed four scorers in double figures, led by Frazer with 15 points and eight assists. Peyton Fedell and Carter Hudson each scored 14 points, while Hudson also contributed seven rebounds and four blocked shots. Colin Hudson added 13 points off the bench, including a pair of big triples in the first quarter after Marquette jumped out to an early lead.

John Thomson had 20 points for the Redmen, who shot 27 for 53 from the field, held a 20-15 rebounding advantage and committed 10 turnovers. Esky was 23 for 39 from the field, including 10 for 17 on 3-pointers.

Marquette also won the JV game 80-74 and freshmen game 49-41.

Marquette welcomes Green Bay, Wisconsin, East at 3 p.m. Saturday.