No. 2 E-TC’s late rally falls short in 51-46 loss to C-N

Jason Juno/Daily Globe (Ironwood) Ewen-Trout Creek’s Eli Nordine walks off the floor following his team’s 51-46 loss to Carney-Nadeau in a regional semifinal Monday in Negaunee.

NEGAUNEE — In the end, it wasn’t enough. One last flurry of overpowering drives from the 6-foot-7 Jake Witt, paired with transition layups from Eli Nordine, created thanks to Ewen-Trout Creek’s suffocating pressure that was fueled by a desperate sense of urgency. It was E-TC’s last stand, one final chance at saving its season. 

If this was the way it was going to end, at least the Panthers delivered one last run, and at least Witt put the finishing touches on one of the finest high school careers with a memorable performance, recording 27 points and 23 rebounds. But it was a classic example of too little, too late against a fearless Carney-Nadeau squad that pressured and jumped all over E-TC before holding on for a 51-46 regional semifinal win Monday at Lakeview Memorial Gymnasium. 

The Panthers trailed by as many as 18 in the fourth quarter and managed to cut the deficit to 49-45 with 1:05 left in the game. But there would be no late-game magic this time around like there was in their 46-45 overtime win over Forest Park in the district opener on March 5. Instead, this time, E-TC turned it over and missed three 3s on its final four possessions.

“To think you’re going to come back from down 18 when (C-N) has good guard play might be a little far-fetched,” E-TC coach Brad Besonen said. “Unfortunately, we got into that deficit too much, partly because of the way we played in the first half … We couldn’t do enough offensively in spurts.”

Witt’s dunks have typically sparked E-TC to massive runs, and he threw one down in the early going that had the gym buzzing, tying the game at 4. But C-N wasn’t the least bit fazed and ended the quarter on a 14-2 run for an 18-6 lead after the opening period. 

Ewen-Trout Creek’s Jake Witt shoots over Carney-Nadeau’s Brett LaFord during a regional semifinal Monday in Negaunee. Witt finished with 27 points and 23 rebounds. (Jason Juno/Daily Globe (Ironwood))

If there was any question how C-N would respond to playing on such a large stage, that was answered in the early moments. The Wolves made 13 of 28 shots in the first half, including 5 of 11 from 3-point range for a 33-21 halftime lead. 

However, as good as they shot it, it was their active man-to-man defense that dominated the half. Sure, the under-sized Wolves allowed Witt to score 16 first-half points on 7 of 14 shooting while battling a double-team; because who doesn’t? But it was the Wolves (16-7) limiting E-TC’s other players to just 2 of 10 from the field as their defensive rotations flew around the perimeter to close out on shooters and not allow driving lanes. The Panthers (21-2) also committed six turnovers in the first five minutes of the game.

“That was kind of our thing. Try to take away Witt as much as we could,” C-N coach Jake Polfus said. “He had a great game, he’s such a monster, but we did a good job scrambling when the ball came out of the post, and that’s what we worked on in practice the other day.”

The Panthers’ scoring issues continued into the third where they struggled to get a shot off during lengthy possessions against C-N’s defense. As a team, they shot just 3 of 11 in the period as Witt recorded all three baskets for 22 of the team’s 27 points. C-N senior Preston Lauscher banked in a running 3 from the top of the key for a 43-27 lead at the end of the third quarter.

“Carney Ds the heck out of you,” Besonen said. “Their ball pressure set us on our heels in the beginning. Their passing lane pressure really tightened up our guards in the first quarter, and then the way they rotated on Jake to get a couple of those deflections. A few of (Jake’s) touches were really difficult touches and finishes that he managed.”

Lauscher led C-N with 17 points and gave his team the biggest lead of the night, 45-27, with just over six minutes left in the game. 

Despite the team’s struggles, Besonen believed in the back of his mind his group would put one final rally together. And just when it appeared you could virtually write C-N into the regional final, E-TC finally came alive, thanks to its defensive trapping pressure. 

Nordine, who played with the flu, came up with two steals and finished each with easy transition layups, capping a 10-0 run that started with a three-point play from Witt and a 3 from the wing by Nordine. 

“When we really started to take off, we just went mad scramble,” Besonen said. “Just put Jake in the middle, double and rotate … We started to spin them around a little bit.

“I can’t say enough about Eli. He shouldn’t have been playing tonight. The way he played in that fourth quarter, just knowing what’s on the line and digging and rotating. He was a little jet out there and he was feeling horrible.”

C-N had four turnovers in the fourth quarter, and each one led to a score on the other end for E-TC. Eighth-grader Jaden Borseth came up with a steal and finished a left-handed layup to trim C-N’s lead to 47-43 with 2:45 remaining. 

The roles were flipped. E-TC was attacking relentlessly while C-N appeared hesitant on offense. 

“To start the fourth quarter, and I said this in the locker room, I said the word “passive” and I should never have used that word,” Polfus said. “It should have been “attack,” and then kick out and shoot our open shots. That’s what got us there is being aggressive. We went too much sideways and it almost looked like we were stalling, and we shouldn’t have been doing that.”

C-N senior Jason Kirschner recorded 13 points and finished an acrobatic layup around Witt to push his team’s lead to 49-43 before Borseth’s layup would cut the deficit to four. Kirschner scored 11 of his 13 in the first half as he made three of his six 3-point attempts. With Witt back protecting the basket, Kirschner had space to knock down his perimeter jumpers. 

“He’s had some bigger games for us where he can shoot the basketball,” Polfus said. “We knew Witt likes to stay by the basket, so I thought with Kirschner out there, he could get some open shots. Credit to him, man, he never hesitates, and he made some big shots.”

C-N would miss both ends of a one-and-one on two separate occasions, but E-TC could never capitalize. C-N senior Jacob Kleiman put the game away with two free throws. 

E-TC finished the game 20 of 51 from the field (39 percent) and was just 2 of 19 from 3-point range (11 percent). After Witt, Nordine was the lone other Panther in double figures with 10 points. 

C-N made 20 of 48 shot attempts (42 percent) and converted 6 of 19 shots from 3 (32 percent). Sophomore Brett LaFord had 10 points. 

The Wolves will take on Dollar Bay in the regional title game Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Lakeview Memorial Gymnasium. Dollar Bay defeated Rapid River 63-60 in the other semifinal.

– – – 

E-TC 6 15 6 18 — 45

C-N 18 15 10 8 — 51

E-TC — Nordine 10, Cousineau 4, Jaden Borseth 4, Witt 27. Fouled out: None; Free throws: 3-3; 3-point field goals: Nordine 2. 

C-N — Koffman 3, Lauscher 17, LaFord 10, Kleiman 8, Kirschner 13. Fouled out: None; Free throws: 5-8; 3-point field goals: Kirschner 3, Lauscher 2, Koffman.