T here weren’t any dramatic speeches or movie-worthy pep talks.
With a team of seven seniors, you don’t need flare. Just facts.
And the fact was, if they didn’t change some things, the Mountaineers would lose.
They would lose in the regional championship and their season would be over.
That was enough.
“When it sets in that this could be our last game, we are a different animal after that,” Bryce Pietrantonio said.
The Mountaineers went into the locker room down seven points to Oscoda, a place they rarely find themselves.
Foster Wonders had been Foster Wonders — simply meaning he was the best player on the floor, by a lot.
But despite his 15 points on 6 of 9 shooting, the Mountaineers were struggling.
The Owls were too good to let one player beat them, so the rest of the Mountaineers needed to step up.
And did they ever.
“We were down, and that isn’t a place we’ve really found ourselves,” Pietrantonio said. “But it kind of set in. And we knew what we had to do to get out of it. From there we just worked our hardest.”
It was like a switch flipped, and the Mountaineers came out of the locker room as a different team: They were tougher, more confident, and all-around better.
Pietrantonio was key to Iron Mountain’s new-found spirit, as the senior scored 10 of his 13 points in the second half.
He started the contest with a free throw, but from there, he was a non-factor in the paint. The Oscoda defense swarmed the lane, and the physicality almost appeared too much for Pietrantonio.
That sentence is laughable, especially when you look at Pietrantonio. He’s signed to play football at Michigan Tech, and the senior looks every bit the part.
“He is one of the best athletes I’ve ever coached,” Bucky Johnson said. “And he’s just a man. I mean, he has man arms and man hands. He’s just a tough, tough competitor. He’s a football player, but he’s having a hell of a year on the basketball court.”
After the break, Pietrantonio remembered who he is. The Owls were not going to push him around anymore.
“I was just trying to make open shots and draw fouls as well,” he said. “They are pretty physical, and we knew we could get ahead if we started getting them in foul trouble.
“I just did what I’ve been doing all year. I’ve been up against guys who are bigger than me, so I guess it was just like a regular game.”
One of the things that has made the Mountaineers so good over the last few years is their steadfast commitment to their roles.
Pietrantonio rarely ventures too far from the lane on offense, and if he does, it’s to pass or drive.
Johnson laughed in the postgame, talking about Pietrantonio shooting in the team’s 3-point contests during practice. It’s not uncommon for his first few attempts to fall a few feet short of the rim.
He’s not a shooter, and he knows it.
But other players are. And those guys are never going to try and be Pietrantonio.
Guys like Caleb Evosevich-Hynes, Ricky Brown and Dante Basanese are all capable of shooting, or getting to the rim.
And on Thursday, Joey Dumais was a key in the end of the game, finishing a 3-point play, and firing a baseline jumper when the Owls left him a little too open.
“It was great to see them bust through and get some baskets,” Wonders said. “They really scrapped out there. They have so much heart, and they are all really good athletes so I knew they were going to eventually break through and get their shots.”
Iron Mountain had to make defensive adjustments as well after the Owls put on an offensive clinic in the second quarter, scoring 23 points on 10 of 13 shooting.
The run included seven points from Michael Geoffrey, who didn’t score another point once the Mountaineers increased their defensive intensity.
Drew Haas was a key offensive component for the Owls in the first half, scoring 11 points and creating an offensive flow by getting to the lane. In the second half, Iron Mountain opted to rotate between Basanese and Evosevich-Hynes on Haas. The two limited him to just six points the rest of the way, on 2 of 8 shooting.
“He didn’t get into the lane and hit that pull-up shot,” Johnson said.”They were able to keep him a little farther away from the basket. And then at the end, we were switching every ball screen because they had to shoot 3s.”
Other than that, the Mountaineers didn’t change much. The adjustments were small, but they were effective.
And it’s the little things that count at this point in the season.
Jurgen Kleiman picked one heck of a time to make his presence known. All season the senior has been quietly doing his job on the defensive end. But on Thursday, in the state semifinals, Kleiman made some noise.