D3 SEMIS: Wonders, Iron Mountain still 'living the dream,' beating Detroit Edison to advance to title game
EAST LANSING — Despite how much Detroit Edison tried to trip up Iron Mountain point guard Marcus Johnson, he might’ve had his biggest fumble of the afternoon Thursday trying to pass along a quote from his school’s most famous alum.
“Coach (Tom) Izzo told us, ‘Some people love it, some people …’” Marcus Johnson started.
No, he was corrected, ‘Some people like it.’
“Yeah,” he picked up. “‘Some people like it, some people love it, and some people live it.’ And we want to live it. It’s just an awesome feeling to get to the championship (game), and hopefully we can bring it home.”
The Mountaineers (27-0) continued to live the dream Thursday afternoon at the home facility of the Michigan State coach, beating reigning Class C champion Detroit Edison, 60-57, in the Division 3 semifinals at Breslin Center to move on to Saturday’s championship game.
It was Iron Mountain's first semifinal win since winning the UP-only championship in 1939.
In Saturday’s 4:30 p.m. finals, Iron Mountain will play Pewamo-Westphalia (27-0), a 60-45 winner over Erie-Mason (23-3) in Thursday’s second semifinal.
“It was a helluva win. I’m proud of my guys. They’ve been living this dream,” Iron Mountain coach Bucky Johnson said, relating that his team spent time with the Iron Mountain native, Izzo, Wednesday night, getting a tour of the facility, and watching Thursday’s MSU practice. “One of our sayings is ‘Mountaineers everywhere.’ And Izzo certainly is one of those Mountaineers everywhere.”
Marcus Johnson may have tripped up with the quote, but he didn’t bend under the relentless pressure from Edison (18-8).
“It was tough. In the UP, you don’t really see any athletes like that, with the length and athleticism like they have,” Marcus Johnson said. “I had too many turnovers (seven), and I gotta correct that in the next game, if I want to win. I gotta just settle in, get a good handle on the ball, and not let it effect how I play.”
The Pioneers were trying to use the pressure to break the Mountaineers, but it didn’t have a huge impact, and certainly didn’t wear them down.
“Absolutely I did (think it would wear them down). You see how many guys I threw at them?” DEPSA coach Brandon Neely said. “Those guys just continued that pace.”
It was even more impressive, given that the Mountaineers only played one reserve off the bench, Jake Dumais, and he only played four minutes.
“I watched these guys play down in Bayport, Wisconsin, in the summer league, I watched them play two 40-minute games against good teams. One time, up in Marquette, at a team camp, they played four 40-minute games,” Bucky Johnson said, admitting it was an offseason goal to develop the bench better this season, one he failed at. “Gotta get better at that.”
The short-benched Mountaineers got plenty from their states, getting 28 points from Foster Wonders to go with 23 points from Marcus Johnson. The duo were 8-for-19 from 3-point range in the game, then knocked down all 10 free throws in the fourth to keep their lead intact.
Edison led 14-7 after the first quarter, but Iron Mountain started heating up in the second quarter, outscoring the Pioneers 12-6 to cut it to a 20-18 deficit by the half, then outscored Edison 22-14 in the third quarter, shooting 64 percent from the floor and 71 percent from 3-point range in the quarter.
They kept up the hot shooting in the fourth, and supplemented it with free throws — Wonders was 9-for-10 from the line in the game, and Johnson was 6-for-6. Foul trouble also kept 6-foot-6 Bryce George on the bench much of the game.
“We knew that it was going to be a tough situation: it was 18-7 in fouls. That’s something that we have to make an adjustment, just because where we’re from, we’re allowed to play a lot more physical. So it’s an adjustment for us,” Neely said. “We have a bunch of young guys, and trying to explain that to them, it doesn’t really resonate. It’s them getting the experience, to know. I had a team graduate that lost the year before, and we fouled (Flint Beecher’s) Malik Ellison 21 times, so when they came back the next year, we knew we had to guard differently.”
Even without George, the Pioneers still out-rebounded Iron Mountain by eight, 36-28.
“These guys battled. I mean, holy crumps those guys can rebound,” Bucky Johnson said. “They’re athletic, they’re long. That’s the biggest team we’ve played. … They scrapped, but I thought we scrapped.”
The coup de grace may have been a 3-pointer by Wonders with 1:55 left, stretching the lead out to eight points, 52-44.
“I mean, I just felt confident after the first couple of 3s I shot in the second half went in. It felt good,” Wonders said. “I was open, and I felt that I could get that shot, and it went in.”
His coach just shrugged it off.
“I’m telling you, I’ve got faith in my guys. I honestly wasn’t really expecting it, but shooters shoot. And makers make. And I’ve got some guys on this team that, at crunch time, are makers. That was a big one. That was awesome. It went down. So we can ‘ifs and buts’ all we want, but —uh, uh — it’s in,” Bucky Johnson said.
I don’t second-guess my guys; we argue some, especially with Marcus. I let them know if it’s bad, but I usually don't say anything about their shooting.”
Ralph Johnson finished with 14 points to lead Edison, while the team’s lone senior, Brian Taylor, had 11.
We plan to be back, man. We’re a program that hangs out hat on hard work, and we’re never satisfied with anything but winning championships. We didn’t win one this year, so we didn’t reach our goal,” Neely said. “Now I think my job coaching next year will be a lot easier, because they’ll believe what I’m saying as opposed to fighting it.”
The Mountaineers will continue to represent the Upper Peninsula in Saturday’s title game.
“Oh, absolutely. Not a lot of UP teams get to come down here, and experience this, and come down here and win, on top of that, is something special. And we take pride in that,” Wonders said. “It’s been unbelievable. We’ve dreamed of this, all of us, since we were kids, watching all the games on TV, state finals.”