Negaunee defeats Iron Mountain for regional championship

Negaunee coach Dan Waterman, left, hands the Class C Region 24 trophy to the team after beating Iron Mountain 53-43 on Wednesday in Escanaba. (Adam Niemi/Iron Mountain Daily News)

By ADAM NIEMI

Iron Mountain Daily News

ESCANABA — Negaunee overcame a 10-point first-half deficit to win the Class C Region 24 title 53-43 over Iron Mountain on Wednesday.

Negaunee plays Manton (20-4) at 7 p.m. EDT on Tuesday in Petoskey in the state quarterfinals.

Foul trouble wrangled the Mountaineers (20-4) in the second half. Iron Mountain collected 22 fouls to Negaunee’s seven. Carson Wonders picked up three fouls in the first quarter. In the fourth quarter, Iron Mountain had four players on the floor with three or more fouls – after Jaden Vicenzi fouled out. As a result of all the fouls, Negaunee shot 19 of 25 at the free throw line. Iron Mountain shot and made just three free throws.

“When you come down to it, when the other team shoots 25 free throws and you shoot three, the difference is at the free-throw line,” Iron Mountain coach Bucky Johnson said. “Why? I don’t know. I guess that’s for everybody to speculate. It’s tough to overcome a difference of 25 free throws to three attempts. It’s a big difference.”

Negaunee’s Dre Tuominen fouled three times in the opening four minutes of the game.

“Kind of an unorthodox game in that sense with Dre picking up three in the first quarter,” Negaunee coach Dan Waterman said. “With Wonders for them picking up three, not much after that. At that point as a coach, there’s no book for it, it’s just kind of a gut thing and you got to have trust in your kids sometimes. Bucky left Carson out and I left Dre out and they both managed to play through it.”

The Mountaineers perplexed the Miners’ offense, keeping Tuominen to the outside and forcing wingers to pick the inside to get 6-foot-7 Trent Bell open underneath. Iron Mountain’s defense was a surprise to Waterman.

“Their defense threw off our gameplan. We weren’t expecting to see quote-unquote ‘junk defense.’ It was a little Y-and-one, almost,” Waterman said. “We prepared for box-and-1 and we prepared for triangle-and-2, expecting to see it at some point this year and hadn’t run across that yet. That was a nice adjustment by them.”

Bell finished with 19 points while Tuominen added 18. Tuominen scored 12 of his points in the fourth quarter, all on free throws.

Wonders led Iron Mountain with 19 points in his final game as a Mountaineer, finishing his career with 1,468 points. Wonders passed Gabe Leonard’s 1,440-point mark in Iron Mountain’s win over Newberry in the regional semifinals on Monday.

“It’s a great accomplishment for me,” Wonders said. “My dad couldn’t do it and I came and did it. I don’t think it’s going to be there for long.”

Wonders said picking up three fouls in the first made him temper his game.

“I had to be obviously more careful. I had to try not to pick up my fourth foul,” he said. “That limited me on defense because I couldn’t be as aggressive as I usually like to be. It was hard driving into the lane knowing they were going to try getting that fourth foul on me. It made me hesitate and that kind of limits my game.”

The Negaunee defense tightened up around the basket in the second half. The flurry of whistles against the Mountaineers made them visibly frustrated and trying to draw fouls to change momentum, but to no avail.

“I thought our defense was pretty good down there. They weren’t getting as many clean looks as they were earlier in the game. That might have contributed to the frustration,” Waterman said. “The other decision that a coach has to make is when you pull the ball out and started playing catch with it and force them to play man-to-man. Once we did that, it kind of changed the complexion of the game. It’s frustrating when you’ve worked so hard and you’ve got to chase in that situation. I think that’s what you were seeing out of them.”

Coach Johnson said he was proud of the team for its accomplishments despite starting a freshman and two sophomores throughout the season.

“I’m just real proud of this team. It hurts right now, it stings right now as it should,” he said. “I told them the sun’s going to come up tomorrow. It’s kind of a cliché, but, you know, they accomplished a lot. We had a great run. We weren’t able to take that next step. Negaunee’s pretty good and you just have to give hats off to them and congratulate them.”

Negaunee 4 19 10 20 – 53

Iron Mountain 12 9 11 11 – 43

NEGAUNEE: Bell 19, Tuominen 18, Ennett 8, Waterman 6, Provost 2. FT: 19-25. F: 7.

IRON MOUNTAIN: Wonders 19, Johnson 15, Gerhard 4, Tucker 3, Vicenzi 2. FT: 3-3. F: 22 (Vicenzi fouled out). FG: 18-44. 3PT: 5-16 (Wonders 2, Johnson 2, Tucker 1). Rebounds: 17 (Gerhard 7).

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