T his is what happens when you run into a buzzsaw. When you face a team that’s more athletic, quicker and teeming with skill throughout its rotation. It doesn’t help if you have an off night, but sometimes the buzzsaw of a team can be so good you have to come to grips with reality and wonder if it may have even mattered.
Unlike the people tasked with formulating weekly Associated Press rankings, Bucky Johnson had the right of it when it came to Flint Beecher. He told the assembled media as much following Thursday’s semifinal win over Schoolcraft.
“In my personal opinion, but I thought Flint Beecher was the No. 1 team in the state all year in Division 3,” he said. “That’s my opinion.”
Beecher’s lone loss this season came to Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, who ended the season as the No. 1-ranked team in Division 1. And given the successful nature of the program, now nine state titles, it’s puzzling why the AP voters had Beecher down at No. 6 given the schedule it plays and returning players such as Keyon Menifield Jr.
On Saturday, Beecher proved it’s a class above the rest of Division 3. The Pirates defeated Iron Mountain 75-47 in a dominant display where the outcome was essentially decided at halftime.
“You just got to give Beecher credit,” Johnson said. “They’re a good team, they’re quick, they’re fast and their press bothered us. Their ability to create off the dribble bothered us.
“Other teams tried to play us kind of like they did, but no other teams were as good as they are at the way they played us. I give them credit.”
Beecher came out and doubled Foster Wonders the same way No. 1 McBain and No. 2 Oscoda had attempted to contain the boys UP all-time leading scorer. But it was evident Beecher was a different beast on the first possession. Wonders looked to use a screen and was immediately jumped by two defenders as one forced a tie-up. Just the closing speed of the trap was unlike the Mountaineers had seen this season.
“When they ran two at me, they’re long and athletic so they made it really hard for me to do anything,” Wonders said. “As soon as I would get the ball, there would be two guys on me and if I took any dribbles or anything, there would be another guy on me, so it was just really hard. I haven’t seen a team like that since I’ve been in high school playing in Michigan. They’re everything that people say. They lived up to all the hype.”
Even in its full-court pressure, Beecher was doubling and trapping Wonders from as far as 90 feet from the basket. Wonders was regularly forced to give the ball up early in the possession and was rarely able to get it back later in the offense. He had just three shot attempts in the first quarter and would get up just six shots in what was a scoreless first half for him.
“Foster Wonders is a kid where the best compliment is I would pay money to watch him play,” Beecher coach Mike Williams said. “That kid can play. We knew we had to neutralize him one way or the other for us to have a chance. Our kids were up to the battle. They prepared, they fought, they followed and they executed. Couldn’t be more proud.”
Just getting into an offensive halfcourt set was an arduous task for Iron Mountain. Beecher’s ball pressure regularly kept the Mountaineers (19-1) from being able to run their offense. Iron Mountain was sped up by Beecher’s athleticism. Any shot the team managed appeared rushed or a bit out of control. Then there were the turnovers. Iron Mountain finished with 20 miscues, with many leading to the 20 fast-break points Beecher finished with.
“They were able to switch, double team and rotate,” Johnson said. “They’re quick and fast and were able to stay in front, and you know, we haven’t really seen that kind of full-court pressure that they were able to apply, and that was difficult.”
The start wasn’t all that bad when Caleb Evosevich-Hynes swished a 3 for an early 3-0 advantage. Defensively, the Mountaineers were able to neutralize Beecher’s dribble-drives and force a couple of misses on contested midrange jumpers. Jurgen Kleiman scored a putback and later added a FT on another layup attempt. Just past the halfway point of the first quarter, Iron Mountain led 6-3 and held an 8-1 advantage on the boards. It was a decent enough start that you figured Iron Mountain was about to engage in another back-and-forth postseason battle.
“In the semifinal game we watched them rebound and thought we had an advantage there, and that came true,” Johnson said. “But what happened is we weren’t able to get shots up and we weren’t able to get rebounds because we turned the ball over. But we knew we could do that, and we did. Jurgen had a heck of a game.”
Then it started to snowball on Iron Mountain. Two turnovers led to two contested Beecher layups for a quick 9-0 run and 12-6 advantage. Carmelo Harris later added a layup to cap a 19-2 run as the Buccaneers led 22-8 with 6:25 left in the first half.
Kleiman would put forth his best performance of the season, leading Iron Mountain with 10-first half points before finishing with 12 for the game. He converted a 3-point play and added a layup midway through the second quarter to cut Beecher’s advantage to 22-13. But Beecher would outscore Iron Mountain 16-6 the rest of the half for a 38-19 halftime lead.
In addition to the overall team athleticism, part of what separates Beecher from the rest of the teams in the state is its elite individual talent. Keyon Menifield Jr. came into the final averaging 30 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists and 5 steals. It was the first time a team had a player the caliber of Wonders it could rely on when going up against Iron Mountain. No. 1 McBain and No. 2 Oscoda had some solid players, but the reality is Wonders and Menifield Jr. are just at another level.
Menifield Jr. took over the game in the second quarter. He knocked down contested step-back jumpers and routinely was able to create space with his deft handle. Menifield finished with a game-high 37 points, including a 20-point first half.
“I’ve been saying all along he’s either the most underrated player or the best player in the state of Michigan. Period,” Williams said of Menifield Jr. “I don’t know anybody that wants to guard him. I don’t know anybody that wants to get in front of him.
“I talked to college coaches that haven’t recruited him, and I told them they’re crazy. I just told them that they didn’t recruit Monte Morris either, so they’re making a big mistake.”
The last semblance of hope for Iron Mountain came when Ricky Brown swished a 3 to cut the deficit to 41-24 with 5:34 left in the third. But Beecher (16-1) would answer with three straight layups to squash any sort of comeback attempt.
Wonders would get his first score with 2:28 left in the third on a layup, but by then Iron Mountain trailed by 26. Beecher’s dominance never even allowed Wonders to put forth one last fourth-quarter rally. Coming into Saturday’s final, he had scored 41 points while making 14 of 15 shots in the last three fourth quarters against Schoolcraft, McBain and Oscoda. But Beecher would not let Wonders, or anyone for that matter, develop any sort of offensive rhythm. Too fast, too strong were the Buccaneers.
The only solace in a loss like this is that no one has to feel saddled with this sort of defeat, wondering if this play or that play went in Iron Mountain’s favor, perhaps the outcome could have been different. This was just Beecher showing the state that it’s the class of Division 3.
“The guys battled all night, but in the end, Flint Beecher was the better team today,” Johnson said.
The angst of the Iron Mountain fanbase continued to grow. McBain and Oscoda had given the Mountaineers some adversity, but this was different. Schoolcraft was matching and even winning the physicality battle and managed to accomplish what no other Iron Mountain opponent has done this season: Make Foster Wonders appear mortal. It was jarring.
As the buzzer sounded, the celebration ensued. The Iron Mountain Mountaineers leaped into each other’s arms while their screams of joy filled the Lake City gymnasium. Marcus Johnson being Marcus, ran from his seat in the stands to join them. He was wearing one of the gold Iron Mountain warm-up shirts with the figurative “FAMILY” emblazoned across the chest which...
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