Division 3 final: Pewamo-Westphalia wins title amid controversy
East Lansing — When asked about the the final seconds of the Division 3 boys basketball championship game at Breslin Center on Saturday, Iron Mountain coach Bucky Johnson blankly stared straight ahead for 30 seconds before speaking.
Moments earlier, up one point and with the ball, Iron Mountain junior forward Tony Feira made a lay-up with 5.3 seconds left, and the Iron Mountain cheering section celebrated the apparent three-point lead. But through the noise a referee's whistle pierced the air.
Travel on Iron Mountain.
On the ensuing inbound, Pewamo-Westphalia guard Collin Trierweiler got the ball and sped past Iron Mountain junior guard Marcus Johnson to about midcourt. Iron Mountain had fouls to give, and at this point, with 0.7 seconds left Marcus Johnson held Trierweiler on the way by. A foul was called, as expected.
What wasn't expected was the refs awarding Pewamo-Westphalia two free throws and the ball for an intentional foul.
Trierweiler made both to win, 53-52, and Pewamo-Westphalia celebrated its first boys basketball state championship after having trailed since the first quarter.
The Iron Mountain bench was despondent.
"They called a travel on a made basket and an intentional foul on a play on the ball. Next," Bucky Johnson said when he broke his silence.
Trierweiler scored all six of his points in the final 30 seconds and didn't wilt when Bucky Johnson took several timeouts before his first foul shot to tie the score, then another before his second to take the lead. Because of the intentional foul call, Trierweiler was alone at the free throw line, no rebounders, game on the line.
"I just tried to calm myself down and think about being out in the driveway with my older brother," Trierweiler said. "We used to practice them all the time, and it was one of my favorite things to do. I always dreamed to be put on the free-throw line in a big moment, maybe not quite this big. It was a little scary. I tried to block out the background and think of my trees in the yard, put them up and shoot them in."
"I was never calling his (Trierweiler's) number during the game," Pewamo-Westphalia coach Luke Pohl said. "He (Trierweiler) just makes plays. What people don't understand is that for the last three weeks he hasn't practiced. He's had a high ankle sprain and he's sat out every practice. He just guts it out. As a senior, he wanted to play, and I'm certainly happy he did."
When Bucky Johnson was able to talk about the game, he made his feelings known but was still holding back. In close games with only a handful of seconds left, referees often swallow their whistles. This time they didn't.
"I respect officials, but man, judgement is critical. You have to forgive, I guess. Right now I'm angry. I'm joyful for our effort. Sorrow, I don't know how that's going to get in there. It usually takes a while after this emotion. The way that guy (the referee), the way they (the referees) reacted ... It stinks to be on this end of it. Everybody sitting in this room: Let's be honest. It's part of the breaks of the game, but come on. I'm not wrong here."
Pewamo-Westphalia (28-0) started the game hot, finding easy baskets on back-cuts. Iron Mountain (27-1) stayed close by making tough shots. After adjusting defensively and moving the ball better on offense, Iron Mountain claimed a 15-11 lead after the first quarter.
Iron Mountain grew its lead by one in the second quarter. At half, sophomore guard Foster Wonders and Marcus Johnson had 22 of Iron Mountain's 26 points. Wonders got the job done with shooting and Marcus Johnson had started finding success on the drive. Wonders finished with 20 points and Johnson 17.
Six-foot-seven Pewamo-Westphalia center Andre Smith didn't have much space inside but was effective in shooting over the Iron Mountain defense in the second half. The senior was a big reason Pewamo-Westphalia even had a chance at the end. Smith finished with 21 points, going 5-for-8 on 3-pointers.
"I knew I had to come out and make some plays in the second half," Smith said. "After I hit the first two (3-pointers), I knew I had to stay on the outside."
Pohl said, "He (Smith) just did that on his own. I didn't tell him to. He just wanted the ball. I love a guy that wants the ball."
Eric Coughlin is a freelance writer.