East Lansing – Iron Mountain made its long trip from the Upper Peninsula worth it Thursday afternoon, putting on a dominating performance during the third quarter to earn a 60-57 victory over Detroit Edison in a Division 3 state semifinal at the Breslin Center.
Iron Mountain (27-0) – making its first state semifinal appearance in 25 years and looking for its first state championship since 1939 – had a visit with Iron Mountain native and MSU coach Tom Izzo Wednesday night at Breslin, then watched the Spartans practice Thursday morning before going on to knock off Edison.
Iron Mountain will face unbeaten Pewamo-Westphalia, a 60-45 winner over Erie-Mason, in Saturday’s 4:30 p.m. championship game.
Iron Mountain trailed 20-19 at halftime while making just 2-of-12 3-pointers, but tossed aside its past frustration from the perimeter, using a 21-8 run to turn a 22-19 deficit into a 40-30 lead with 1:50 left in the third. Junior guard Marcus Johnson made three 3-pointers and 6-foot-5 sophomore Foster Wonders made two during the quarter.
Then, after Edison cut the deficit to 45-44 with 3:21 left by using strong defense to force turnovers or block shots, leading to transition baskets – along with 3-pointers by Ralph Johnson and Brian Taylor – Iron Mountain scored a number of inside baskets and another 3-pointer by Wonders for a 52-44 cushion with just over two minutes remaining.
Wonders finished with 28 points and Johnson 23, making 5-of-11 pointers.
“Edison has a good team and have a bunch of good athletes,” said Iron Mountain coach Harvey “Buddy” Johnson. “A big key in the game was when we got the big guy (6-foot-6, 230-pound Bryce George) in foul trouble because they definitely want to go through him in the post. Charlie (Gerhard) took about three charges on him.”
George had 19 points and 17 rebounds in a state quarterfinal upset win over Flint Beecher on Tuesday.
Edison (19-8) – the defending Class C state champion – had four chances on its first possession of the semifinal game with George grabbing three offensive rebounds.
However, George was called for his second foul, on a charge, with 2:32 left in the opening quarter and Edison holding a 9-6 lead, and sat on the bench for the remainder of the half.
George returned to start the second half, but picked up his third foul – on another charge – with 3:54 left in the third and sat on the bench for the rest of the quarter. It was then that Iron Mountain made its run with the 3-point shooting of Johnson and Wonders.
“They (Edison) were dogging me all game so I was just trying to hit open shots, and when I got open looks I capitalized on them,” said Johnson, who came in averaging 23.3 points with 94 3-pointers. “I was just trying to get the momentum in our favor. Coach Izzo told us 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 (championship trophy) home.”
Johnson scored 14 for Edison and Taylor, the lone senior, had 11 points and seven rebounds. George was limited to eight points and six rebounds in 15 minutes.
“We knew it would be a tough situation, we had 18 fouls to seven (for Iron Mountain),” said Edison coach Bo Neely. “We know we have to make adjustments. Where we’re from we’re allowed to play a lot more physical. We plan to be back.
“(Iron Mountain) plays so well as a team because they know where the guys are, and they are patient enough to make sure to get the ball where they want.”
Neely thought his team would wear down Iron Mountain, since he used 13 players to just six for Iron Mountain.
“Absolutely, you saw how many guys I threw a them, but those guys just continued that pace,” Neely said.
Wonders and Johnson combined to make 10-of-10 free throws during the final 3:07 with Wonders making six.
Neely was also surprised by Iron Mountain’s defense, which limited Edison to 37.3-percent shooting.
“They defended a lot better than I anticipated,” Neely said. “It was tough for us to get the ball inside. They did a good job of packing it in.”
While Neely was surprised by Iron Mountain’s defense, Johnson wasn’t surprised by Wonders’ ability to knock down a 3-pointer after his team broke Edison’s press and could have taken some time off the clock with 2:02 left.
“I wasn’t expecting it, but shooters shoot and makers make,” said Johnson. “It went down and that was awesome!”
Johnson said Izzo inspired his team.
“One of our sayings is ‘Mountaineers Everywhere,’ and Tom Izzo is certainly one of those Mountaineers Everywhere,” said Johnson.
Pewamo-Westphalia 60, Erie-Mason 45
Pewamo-Westphalia (27-0) jumped out to a 19-5 lead after the opening quarter and led the rest of the way in its semifinal game despite Erie-Mason (23-3) climbing to within 23-22 in the second quarter and 37-34 late in the third.
Aaron Bearss, a 6-4 junior, had 16 points and nine rebounds, and 6-7 senior center Andre Smith 14 points and nine rebounds for P-W, which outrebounded Erie-Mason by a 46-32 margin, 22-12 on the offensive glass leading to a 21-10 advantage on second-chance points.
Junior guard Joe Liedel scored 31 for Erie-Mason on 11-of-25 shooting (3-of-10 3-pointers).
Iron Mountain 60, Detroit Edison 57
Pewamo-Westphalia 60, Erie-Mason 45
Final: Saturday, 4:30 p.m.