T he 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.
Through three quarters, Wonders was shooting less than 50% (7-18) as he and the rest of the team struggled against the length and size of Schoolcraft’s 2-3 zone. Naturally, Wonders was essentially doubled wherever he went. As a team, the Mountaineers were just 2 for 12 in the third and a quick layup by Schoolcraft to start the fourth extended its lead to eight. It was desperation time.
It’s no secret Iron Mountain’s success is tied directly to Wonders’ offensive output. But if the Mountaineers were to rally, they would need a heroic performance from Wonders, which he is capable of, but even the most ardent Iron Mountain supporter likely had doubts at this point.
As the anxiousness continued to grow for the Iron Mountain faithful, Wonders went the other way on the emotional spectrum.
“For me, I think I’ve just done really well at kind of relaxing myself a little bit and just knowing that I put the work in,” he said. “Like through the game, I missed a few shots and just sticking with it and having that next-shot mentality and not worrying about the last shot if it’s a miss or not.”
He wouldn’t miss another shot the rest of the way.
The 34 points and eight rebounds in a comeback state semifinal win are the latest entry to the legend that is Foster Wonders. The 6-5 guard went 6 for 6 from the field in the fourth quarter and overtime to lead Iron Mountain to a 54-50 win over Schoolcraft Thursday in East Lansing. The Mountaineers will now play for a state title on Saturday against Flint Beecher.
“He just does what he does,” Iron Mountain coach Bucky Johnson said of Wonders taking games over. “He knows what to do, and I don’t really have to tell him.”
Wonders has posted numerous gaudy stat lines while reaching career milestones on the way. But the boys UP scoring leader’s most impressive stat has come during this postseason run. In his last three games, Wonders has only missed one shot in the fourth quarter. He went 5 for 6 for 11 points in the comeback regional final win over Oscoda before converting all three shots and scoring 12 points against McBain. His 6 for 6 performance and 18 points versus Schoolcraft means that Wonders is 14 for 15 with 41 points in the last three fourth quarters.
Both Oscoda and McBain chose to run a straight double at Wonders in their man defenses which Wonders made easy work of leading up to the fourth quarter in each of those contests. But Schoolcraft was different. The Eagles were pushing Wonders out and forcing him to catch the ball 10 feet beyond the 3-point line. If Wonders were to penetrate the zone, he would need to split the top two defenders, and even if he managed that, Schoolcraft’s bottom three defenders of its zone stood 6-6, 6-7 and 6-6, with the 6-7 Bryce VanderWiere ready to draw a charge on Wonders.
“As a team, we were just going to do our best to keep him contained,” VanderWiere said. “And if he broke into the lane, something I’ve been able to do all year is take charges, and that’s what I was looking to do. If he was going to drive, I was going to be there to try to get that foul.”
Wonders managed to get in the middle of the zone and knock down a turnaround jumper as he was fouled. He added the free throw to cut Schoolcraft’s lead to 32-27. On Iron Mountain’s next possession, he converted another midrange jumper on a second-chance opportunity.
After being called for a charge earlier in the game against VanderWiere, Wonders adjusted and went to a floater in the lane instead of attempting to get all the way to the rim. Wonders’ floater gave Iron Mountain a 34-33 advantage to cap a 10-1 run with 3:25 left in the fourth quarter.
“I think just trying to get inside more. I think in the first half I settled for some shots,” Wonders said of adjusting to the zone. “I thought I kind of took some bad shots inside, too. I knew in the second half that that guy was going to be setting up for them. I’ve worked on floaters my whole life and practice them pretty much every day so it’s kind of like second nature to just put it up and have some soft touch and hope it goes in.”
Wonders’ shooting from the perimeter took a bit to get going. He was just 1 for 5 from 3 in the first half against Schoolcraft (19-2) on what were decent looks for him. Following the first half, he decided to be more decisive with his shot from outside. It worked. With 2:34 left in the fourth, he swished a 3 for a 37-36 lead. Then he pulled up from nearly 30 feet and swished another 3 over two defenders for a 40-38 advantage with 1:59 remaining in the fourth quarter.
“I thought we did a pretty good job until he hit those two shots late,” Schoolcraft coach Randy Small said. “I thought we made him work for it. We lost him a couple times but not consistently. I mean, he has great range. The one 3 he hit was from about 28 feet. (The zone) really wasn’t too much of a jump for us because we’ve been able to kind of adjust that zone a little bit, but I thought we did a good job overall.”
A layup from Jurgen Kleiman gave the Mountaineers (19-0) a 42-38 lead. Then chaos ensued.
Schoolcraft’s Tyler DeGroote knocked down a hanging midrange jumper to cut Iron Mountain’s lead to 42-40. The Mountaineers were called for a 10-second violation to give possession back to Schoolcraft. Then the two teams traded loose ball turnovers with Schoolcraft able to score an uncontested layup to tie the game at 42.
Iron Mountain managed to get one look at the rim before the buzzer but it was off the mark, sending the game into overtime.
In addition to Wonders being Wonders and going off, Iron Mountain started to generate offense from its high-low look with Bryce Pietrantonio and Kleiman. The two connected late in the fourth quarter for the 42-38 advantage and would do so once again to start overtime, giving the Mountaineers a 44-42 lead.
“We ran our basic offense against that zone. We just stuck with it,” Johnson said. “Kids in the timeout wanted to run “Red,” because they know where to attack that and the middle was wide open. Bryce got the ball and they were way extended out on Foster and double-teaming him at times.
“And then (assistant coach) Rick (Olds) told Foster to split the double team, and that’s when we went to the basket. And then we basically just stuck to our normal offense.”
Wonders converted another floater over VanderWiere to put Iron Mountain ahead 47-42 with 2:12 remaining. Caleb Evosevich-Hynes added two free throws for a 49-42 advantage.
Following the 2 for 12 third quarter, Iron Mountain managed to shoot 9 for 12 in the fourth and overtime. Meanwhile, the Mountaineers’ physicality managed to win out down the stretch on the defensive end. Schoolcraft converted just 7 of 19 shot attempts during that same span.
“I thought the drives and the bodying on the drives and the ability to fight through screens probably affected us a little bit more than the physicality underneath,” Smart said. “I thought their size was a little bit more effective doing that than it was on the glass. But overall, like I said, it could have been either way, but unfortunately, it didn’t go our way today.
Still, Schoolcraft managed to rally. Shane Rykse converted a step-through jumper as he was fouled. The 3-point play cut the Mountaineers’ advantage to 50-47. Schoolcraft was set to cut the lead to two but a lane violation on a free throw negated a point and kept Iron Mountain’s lead at 53-50.
Now Iron Mountain will prepare for a Flint Beecher team that has one of the most dynamic players in the state. Keyon Menifield Jr. is averaging 30 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists and 5 steals per game, and his coach compares him to another player to come up through the program: Former Iowa State guard and current Denver Nugget, Monte Morris.
“You follow Division 3 basketball, and they’re a perennial power,” Johnson said. “They’re well-coached, versatile and they defend you and are able to extend the court. We know we’re up against a tremendous challenge.
“In my personal opinion, but I thought Flint Beecher was the No. 1 team in the state all year in Division 3. That’s my opinion. So I guess they’re the team to beat and we’re the underdogs.”
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