Witt finishes with triple-double to lead E-TC past Bessemer

Ewen-Trout Creek’s Jaden Borseth defends Bessemer’s Brayden Tomes Wednesday in Bessemer. (Jason Juno/Daily Globe (Ironwood))

BESSEMER — Playing at the House of Noise is usually a big pretty big advantage for Bessemer. It’s you-can’t-hear-yourself-think loud. The fans are right on top of you. And those fans were fired up for the tournament semifinal against their rivals from Ewen-Trout Creek.

But it’s just Bessemer’s luck that quite possibly the best player in the Upper Peninsula has made himself at home here as well.

Just like he did here in December, Ewen-Trout Creek’s 6-7 standout, Jake Witt, shot the ball extremely well away from the perimeter, this time recording a triple-double and leading the Panthers to the Class D District 127 championship game with a 66-53 victory over Bessemer Wednesday night. 

The district final is Friday night against Wakefield-Marenisco in Ewen at 7:30 p.m. EST.

“Jake’s a great player and unfortunately a great atmosphere oftentimes boils that blood in the great players,” Bessemer coach Richard Matrella said.

Witt shot 75 percent on mid-range and 3-point shots, a combined 9 of 12. He also scored 36 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and blocked 10 shots. The flu that slowed him earlier this week was losing the battle big time Wednesday.

“Was he fantastic,” E-TC coach Brad Besonen said. “He’s really unguardable when he shoots like that from the perimeter.”

It worked in December in Bessemer. It worked late in Monday night’s come-from-behind win over Forest Park, which defended him well on the block. A couple of 3s late in the fourth quarter helped to loosen things up.

So with Tyler Busch and a help defender looking to make life difficult inside again Wednesday night, E-TC looked outside, and it worked again.

“Once I started playing the post and we saw they were bringing that help-side defender, it was just tough to enter anything, so we decided to switch to the perimeter-play style and it worked,” Witt said.

“Busch is so solid inside and they are very good and athletic at shooting a double over,” Besonen said. “A lot of times, you go that entry pass over the top and when Busch is fronting, it’s not there and it gets tipped away.”

Eli Nordine also contributed 12 points and a strong rebounding performance as Witt had to defend Busch away from the basket. 

“Our guards did a solid job of rebounding the ball,” Besonen said. “That’s a big thing. The way we have to defend them, Busch is pretty solid from 15, so you can’t just put Jake under the rim like we usually do. So he’s got to come up and defend. That leaves a lot of rebounds underneath and there’s a lot of 3s taken as well, perimeter shots that are tough to rebound.”

Bessemer’s Brayden Tomes tried to will the Speedboys back with 19 of his team-high 25 points in the second half.

But it’s tough to be in comeback mode all night long.

E-TC jumped out to an 8-0 lead. While Besonen thought rust may have played a role with Bessemer not playing a game since Feb. 23; he was just happy it happened to prevent any of the tightness his team experienced in Monday night’s tournament-opening win from lingering into this game.

The Panthers built the lead to 16-4 before Bessemer made a run of its own. Tomes hit two 3s and Cade Mazzon got one to pull within 21-13. 

“Going from zone press to half-court zone, we lost Brayden twice and we lost Cade once,” Besonen said.“We had to get out of our zone, which we’d like to play a little more of.”

Later, Bessemer got within three as Busch got his fourth try of the possession to go and then Uriah Aili made a free throw to pull within 23-20 with 1:03 left in the half.

But they couldn’t close the half out.

Witt drilled a transition 3. Mazzon answered, but E-TC finished with a 2 and then another 3 by Witt to make it 31-22 at the half.

“Our worst part was that last 50 seconds before half … when he hits a 3 at the top of the key because a kid didn’t do what he’s supposed to do, and Jake’s going to hit that shot every time against us,” Matrella said. “Then we take the quick 3-pointer and we give them another 3, and all of a sudden, it’s eight or nine at the half.”

The Speedboys cut it to five twice in the third, but guess who had an answer both times. 

Bessemer scored the first five points of the second half on a 2 by Tomes and a runner by Mazzon, pulling within 31-26. But there was Witt with a putback through contact. The free throw made it 34-26 E-TC.

A Mazzon 3 got it down to 36-31. And … Witt stuck a 3 of his own.

Then Witt’s teammates were there for the answers.

Tomes got to the rim to get it to six, 39-33. This time, it was Ryan Driesenga with the answer, banking in a 3. Tomes scored. Nordine drove straight to the bucket and completed a three-point play to make it 45-35 going into the fourth.

A long 2 from Witt got the lead back to a dozen. Bessemer scored the next four and stole an errant pass by Witt, who recovered in time to redirect the shot into the front row.

He followed that with a 3.

The Speedboys got it to single digits two more times in the fourth. Witt hit shots both times to get it back to double digits. 

It was just that kind of night.

Witt always had an answer and on defense when Bessemer kept challenging him in the lane, he kept swatting them away.

“We were supposed to throw the ball opposite him and we never really got somebody to that opposite block most of the night like we wanted to, because Jacob does a good job of protecting the rim, but he can only protect so much,” Matrella said. “Eli’s probably been blocked a lot in practice by him, a lot of our guys the same size need to learn, sometimes you ain’t going to get those shots against him. Tomes did OK challenging him a little bit, but he uses that reverse layup on him.”

E-TC (20-1) now prepares for Wakefield-Marenisco, which has gotten more and more experience and confidence playing without Jacob Suzik (broken arm).

“I’m very excited about Friday night now,” Besonen said. “They defended us pretty darn hard at their place, especially our guards. We’re going to have to be ready for a ballgame. You can’t lose shooters there either, (Mason) Saubert, (Bailey) Ribich and (Brett) Heil will go off on you. We’ll have to do a good job working those guys.”

– – –

E-TC 14 17 14 21 — 66

Bessemer 4 18 13 18 — 53

E-TC – Tommy Cousineau 7, Eli Nordine 12, Cole Borseth 5, Ryan Driesenga 3, Jaden Borseth 4, Jake Witt 36. FTs: 10-13. Fouls: 14. Fouled out: None. 3-pointers: Witt 4, Cousineau 1, Driesenga 1, C. Borseth 1.

Bessemer – Cade Mazzon 12, Andy Aspinwall 2, Uriah Aili 4, Jared Janczak 4, Brayden Tomes 25, Tyler Busch 6. FTs: 9-10. Fouls: 15. Fouled out: None. 3-pointers: Mazzon 2, Tomes 2.