ISHPEMING - Cold didn't just describe the near-zero temperatures outside the Ishpeming High School gym on Friday night - it was also an apt description of the shooting going on inside, too.
Iron Mountain held onto a lead despite missing a flurry of free throws down the stretch for a 44-37 Mid-Peninsula Conference victory.
Down by nine points, 38-29, with a little over 2 1/2 minutes to go, Ishpeming went to full-court pressure for the first time, sending the Mountaineers to the free-throw line 16 times in the final 150 ticks on the clock.
Ishpeming's Bobby Zhulkie (22) puts up a layup as Iron Mountain's Taylor Huotari (10) and Luke Zambon (32) attempt to block during the second quarter of a Mid-Peninsula Conference game in Ishpeming on Friday. (Journal photo by Zach Jay)
While IM made their first four tries, they only sank 2 of their final 12 attempts to play right into the Hematites' hands.
But Ishpeming missed numerous chances to get close, much to the chagrin of IHS coach John Tiziani.
"We played our game plan to a T," he said, "but it's very difficult to win a game when you shoot less than 25 percent."
The Hematites finished 14 of 58 for 24.1 percent, while IM was 16 of 40, a 40 percent success rate. The Mountaineers, however, finished a chilly 7 of 21 at the charity stripe (33.3 percent).
"For some reason, we didn't push the ball the way I would've liked to in transition," Tiziani said. "I don't think it took away from our overall opportunities, but it limited our quality opportunities.
"I'm extremely proud of our guys' effort. When we got down to those last couple of minutes, we could've easily packed it in and said we're done. But we didn't, and we fought and battled right to the end."
The Mountaineers stayed in the race for the M-PC title, improving to 9-4 overall and 7-2 overall. Ishpeming fell to 4-5 and 2-4.
IM had a distinct height advantage, something the Hematites are used to this season, but battled well enough on the boards to hold a 30-27 rebounding advantage.
"It was a grind-it-out game," Mountaineers coach Harvey "Bucky" Johnson said. "Defensively, Ishpeming played pretty solid.
"They have some great athletes who work hard," IM senior guard Taylor Huotari said. "You can see why their football team was so good. They really worked the boards."
Johnson said it was the first time his team had seen a zone defense for an entire game this season.
"We used most of the first half trying to figure out how to attack it, where its weak sports were," he said. "I thought we did a better job penetrating in the second half."
Mountaineers senior Luke Zambon figured out how to beat it, particularly in the first half, by firing in four 3-pointers, most coming two or three feet from behind the arc. He finished with a game-high 22 points, 13 coming in the first half when his team held a narrow 19-18 lead at intermission.
"Every possession in a game like this is golden," Tiziani was heard saying to his team several times during timeouts.
Though Ishpeming senior Joe Lyle opened the scoring by sloughing off a defender in the lane, the Mountaineers quickly turned the tables for an 8-2 lead on the strength of several long-range 3s by Zambon.
The Hematites got within one point on four occasions during the second and third quarters, but never pulled even.
The last time they got within one came at 24-23 after Lyle took a nifty pass from junior point guard Tyrus Millimaki for an easy layup with 4:40 to go in the third. But Ishpeming scored just one point over the next 9 1/2 minutes to fall into its biggest hole, 37-24, with 3:58 left.
A couple of free throws by junior Bobby Zhulkie and a 3-pointer by junior Derek DeCaire brought the deficit down to single digits when Tiziani put on the full-court press.
Zhulkie led Hematites scorers with 14 points, while Lyle added eight points and eight rebounds.
Zambon and senior teammate Gerry Pirkola each pulled down seven rebounds as Pirkola also had eight assists. Huotari was IM's No. 2 scorer with seven points.
Ishpeming won the JV game, 53-42.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org