Iron Mountain Mountaineers close out Negaunee Miners’ boys basketball season in regionals

Negaunee’s Drew Lindberg, front right, gets by Iron Mountain’s Foster Wonders, partially hidden, and Charlie Gerhard for a running shot in the second quarter of their MHSAA Division 3 boys basketball regional tournament game held at Marquette Senior High School on Tuesday. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

MARQUETTE — Reading between the lines, Negaunee boys basketball coach Dan Waterman knows it’s no fluke that Iron Mountain is undefeated this season.

The Mountaineers ran their record to 24-0 with a 51-40 victory over the Miners in an MHSAA Division 3 regional semifinal game played at Marquette Senior High School on Tuesday night.

IM advances to the regional championship game to be played in Sault Ste. Marie at 7 p.m. EST Thursday against Traverse City St. Francis, which defeated Charlevoix 44-30 on Tuesday in East Jordan.

Waterman felt his team, which finished at 15-8, couldn’t have played a better game than it did, but still was forced into catchup mode for nearly the entire contest.

The Miners held short-lived leads three times in the first quarter, then pulled within one possession a half-dozen times in the middle two quarters.

“I couldn’t be prouder of my kids,” Waterman said. “We executed our game plan to a T.

“That’s who they are,” he said when asked if IM’s height bothered his team.

That advantage is epitomized by 6-foot-5 sophomore Foster Wonders as he and 5-10 junior point guard Marcus Johnson have been the focus of IM’s offensive production all season.

Waterman was happy that his defenders were successful in limiting those two players’ scoring until the game turned into a free-throw parade for the Mountaineers in the fourth quarter.

“We did a good job on those guys, holding them down to 15 points between them for the first three quarters,” Waterman said. “We wanted to challenge their other players to see if they could make shots.”

One of them — senior Jaden Vicenzi — did. He hit a trio of 3-pointers in the first half, then added eight points in the third period with a couple more triples to finish as the game’s leading scorer with 17 points.

“Their defense was all over Marcus and Foster,” Vicenzi said. “When that happens, me and Chuck (Charlie Gerhard) and Tony (Feira) have to show up, especially now in the playoffs when everybody is scouting us.”

It didn’t help Negaunee’s cause when Jason Waterman, one of the Miners’ junior floor leaders — they start four 11th graders — crumpled to the court after being involved in a violent collision with 4:42 left in the third.

“That seemed to take a lot of air out of our sails for awhile,” Dan Waterman said.

Though senior teammate Jake Larson nailed a 3-pointer from the top of the key about 30 seconds later to pull Negaunee within 30-28, IM soon began to assert control.

Jason Waterman returned with a noticeable limp about a minute and a half into the fourth quarter in the midst of a 7-0 Mountaineers run that expanded their lead to its largest of the night, 45-33.

“All game my guys kept fighting,” Dan Waterman said, a sentiment echoed by IM coach Harvey “Bucky” Johnson.

“Give credit tonight to Negaunee,” Johnson said. “They were prepared. They’re hard to play.

“For us, Jaden stepped up big time. He hit some big shots and played good defense on (Negaunee guard Brandon) Sager. (Sager) was about a centimeter away from going all ‘Pau Gasol’ on us.”

Gasol is an NBA veteran known for his 3-point shooting prowess.

Sager finished as the Miners’ leading scorer with 13 points with just one 3-pointer. Larson and junior Drew Lindberg each scored eight points that included a pair of treys. Waterman finished with six points.

With IM leading just 4-2 about 3 1/2 minutes into the game, the teams broke loose on offense to finish up the first quarter.

The lead changed hands six times later in the period, due largely to five 3-pointers made between the teams that left IM ahead 16-15 after one.

The Miners never took the lead again, though they were within two or three points multiple times.

In the fourth quarter, Johnson led IM into dribbling around the court to burn up clock until Negaunee could foul.

The Miners had to foul five times early in the fourth just to get IM to the free-throw line for several one-and-ones, but Johnson made 4 of 5 in the final period to keep Negaunee at bay.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.