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Tight defense stops Iron Mountain boys basketball team: Mountaineers, Foster Wonders slowed by Flint Beecher’s swarming defense in MHSAA Division 3 championship game

Iron Mountain's Foster Wonders, center with ball, gets trapped at half court by Flint Beecher's Taylin Muldrew, No. 13, and an unidentified player at right in the third quarter of their MHSAA Division 3 boys basketball state championship game played Saturday at the Breslin Center on the campus of Michigan State University in East Lansing. Looking on is Mountaineers head coach Harvey "Bucky" Johnson, behind the players. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

EAST LANSING — Iron Mountain’s bid for the MHSAA Division 3 state championship came up short Saturday afternoon as Flint Beecher cruised to a 75-47 win at the Breslin Center at Michigan State University.

While the Mountaineers were back in the state finals for the second time in the past three years — the second straight, considering the 2020 championships were canceled due to the pandemic — Beecher came in having earned five state basketball titles since 2012.

With incredible athleticism and confidence, Bucs senior Keyon Menifield Jr. poured in a game-high 37 points to give Beecher its sixth championship in less than a decade.

“I am very proud of our kids. I think they represented themselves, our community and the entire Upper Peninsula with class and they worked hard,” Iron Mountain head coach Harvey “Bucky” Johnson said. “Not many kids and teams get to play here, and we feel very blessed to have done so.

“The kids never gave up. They kept pushing and encouraging one another until the end of the game.”

An emotional Iron Mountain team gathers for a huddle with head coach Harvey "Bucky" Johnson, front right, before the awards ceremony after their game against Flint Beecher in the MHSAA Division 3 boys basketball state championship game played Saturday at the Breslin Center on the campus of Michigan State University in East Lansing. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

It was apparent early that the Bucs’ defensive strategy was to smother IM senior Foster Wonders, double-teaming him from the very first possession until the final horn sounded.

“That was our game plan, limit Wonders as much as we could, and make the other guys on their team beat us,” veteran Beecher head coach Mike Williams said. “We knew with as exceptional of a player as Foster is, basically our best offense had to be a strong defense — and then let our offense develop off of that.

“We had to neutralize Foster Wonders to have a chance today — that kid can play,” Williams emphasized. “I’d buy a ticket to watch him play, which is the ultimate compliment anyone can give a player.”

Beecher’s game plan worked out almost perfectly: Wonders, who averages nearly 35 points a game, was held scoreless until 2:35 was left in the third stanza.

“Our kids fought, they executed our game plan and they prepared and I couldn’t be more proud,” Williams said. “Our game plan was a bit of a gamble, but our kids came to play today.”

Along with keeping Wonders in check, the Bucs’ half-court and sometimes full-court pressure caused the Mountaineers to turn the basketball turn over and over, leading to a handful of easy transition buckets for Beecher.

Behind eight points from Menifield, the Bucs’ went on a 13-0 run the last three-plus minutes of the first quarter. Beecher’s lead grew to 31-15 with 2:15 remaining in the first half and to nearly 20 points by halftime.

As the second half wore on, the outcome of the game continued to be less in doubt. Menifield, plus 16 points from teammate Carmelo Harris, along with the Bucs’ defense proved too much for the Mountaineers.

“In the game today, you have to give all the credit to Flint Beecher,” Johnson said. “They were tough; they did to us what no other team could this year. Usually Foster wouldn’t let it happen, but Beecher deserves lots of credit today.”

While other teams tried to play Iron Mountain in the manner in which Beecher did, “nobody was as good as (Beecher was) at playing that style against us,” Johnson said.

Wonders led the Mountaineers with 13 points, all in the second half. Jurgen Kleiman chipped in 12 points and Dante Basanese netted 11 in their final game in the Mountaineers’ yellow and black retro uniforms.

Iron Mountain ends its season at 19-1.

“Our kids deserve a lot of credit as well. We beat some good teams to get here, our outstanding group of eight players,” Johnson added. “It simply wasn’t our day today. But I will say, this was the perfect group to go through the pandemic season. They like to have fun and are easy going and are a joy to be around.”

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