Prep boys basketball: Marquette uses height to advantage, tops Ishpeming at home

MARQUETTE – Playing with height is a nice luxury to have in the game of basketball.

But it means a whole lot more if those players can move, ball handle and sink a few shots.

The Marquette boys have all those abilities – and maybe a few more – and eventually imposed their will on a shorter but scrappy Ishpeming team at the MSHS gym Tuesday night, winning 57-41.

The Upper Peninsula’s No. 1 team in Class ABC, the Redmen are now 7-0 this season with wins over top-five teams Ishpeming and Negaunee on their resume.

“We knew this was going to be a physical game going in,” Marquette coach Brad Nelson said. “We just played Menominee on Friday, and they also play a physical game.

“Fortunately for us, we have strong guys who can play that kind of basketball.”

While MSHS features all five starters standing at least 6-foot-2, just two players on the Ishpeming roster reach that height, one being all-Mr. Everything from football, senior forward Alex Briones. He was a leader on the basketball court as well Tuesday, registering team highs of 16 points and seven rebounds.

“Our kids play hard, but Marquette is long, with good size and long arms,” Hematites coach Jeff Olson said. “It’s tough to get good shots against them.”

Ishpeming stayed with the Redmen in the first half, though they had to mount a furious comeback in the second quarter. It was keyed by senior guard Bobby Zhulkie’s pair of 3-pointers as he scored 12 of his 14 points in the opening half.

The Hematites finished off a five-minute, 15-5 run to take their only lead of the night, 27-26, when 6-5 sophomore center Ozzy Corp made an acrobatic layup with a defender hanging all over him 40 seconds before halftime.

Marquette answered with two free throws by Brad Brow with 4.1 seconds left to retake the lead 28-27 at halftime.

Those free throws were the beginning of a long run by the Redmen that put the game away. Marquette scored the first 16 points of the second half, capped by a wide-open 3-pointer from senior Larry Burnette at the top of the key to make it 44-27 with 2:10 left in the third.

Ishpeming, now 3-2 and ranked No. 5 in Tuesday’s U.P. Class ABC rankings, never got closer than 11 points after that.

The tallest of the tall Redmen, 6-8 center Vejas Grazulis, was an important weapon at both ends of the floor for Marquette. In addition to recording game-highs of 17 points and 10 rebounds, he was listed as making three blocked shots.

He also affected a lot of other shots.

“We knew Briones and (senior Bobby) Zhulkie like to go to the hole, so we had Vejas there,” Nelson said. “That’ll make you think twice when there’s a 6-8 guy at the rim.”

Grazulis said his defensive assignment on Tuesday was not to wander too far from the basket.

“I was guarding Corp, but coach wanted me to be ready to get back to the basket because he knew they like to penetrate,” Grazulis said.

On offense, Grazulis was a go-to guy for passes from nearly everybody, but especially senior guards Brow and Andrew Nyquist, each of whom dished out five assists.

Most of Grazulis’ points were on turnaround lay-ins on high passes that only he could reach, though he surprised one and all by sinking a 15-footer just 35 seconds into the second half.

“Any one of our guys can go off,” Nelson said about his offense. “We take whatever they’ll give us.”

Burnette finished with 14 points and Nyquist 12, while Brow added eight points and five rebounds.

The Hematites won the JV game, 54-34.