By BURT ANGELI
STEPHENSON - Stephenson High School gym, rarely the friendly confines when it comes to the Mountaineers, yielded one to the visitors Thursday.
Burt Angeli/The Daily News Photo
Stephenson’s Kyle Raboin (11) pulls down a rebound in front of Iron Mountain’s Marcus Celello (24) in Thursday’s non-conference basketball game. Eagles’ Levi Brock (1) and Casey Wilson (15) look on. Iron Mountain, behind 19 points apiece from Taylor Huotari and Luke Zambon, rallied past Stephenson 49-46.
Iron Mountain, behind 19 points apiece from Taylor Huotari and Luke Zambon, rallied past Stephenson 49-46 to wrap up the 2012 portion of the boys basketball season unbeaten.
The Mountaineers (5-0), down 27-14 at halftime, moved ahead on the strength of a defensive move and stellar play.
"I'm as proud of this team as almost any other team I've coached," Mountaineer coach Bucky Johnson said. "It's just a credit to those kids for not giving up. They found a way on the road to get it done.
"This was a great comeback. It was awesome."
With the game deadlocked at 41 with 3:43 to go, Huotari knocked down three buckets, two from beyond the arc, and also came up with a big steal.
Huotari, who also tallied five assists and five steals, drained a triple with 51 seconds remaining to snap a 46-46 tie. Stephenson recovered from a 46-41 deficit as Austin Grinsteiner and Levi Brock (triple) nailed baskets.
"Huotari was clutch big time (with 13 fourth-quarter points) and Zambon whole game long," Johnson said. "How many times did he drive in there for nice baskets?"
Stephenson's zone defense, along with some pressure, kept the Mountaineers under wraps in the first half.
"We weren't playing fast enough in the first half," Johnson said. "Part of the reason we weren't hitting our shots. When they got a defensive rebound we were struggling to get back.
"We picked up the pace in the second half and started hitting our shots."
And never let be said that Bucky Johnson doesn't welcome input from his players. One of the Mountaineers suggested a zone defensive change from a 2-3 to 3-2.
Sure enough, that helped limit the Eagles to six points in the third period and 13 in the fourth. The Mountaineers also extended their defensive pressure.
"We went with it because they were hitting their shots from the wings against the 2-3," Johnson said. "I listen to (my players) all the time. Sometimes I don't do what they suggest.
"But I want them to do it (make suggestions). They're out there playing."
Brock topped the Eagles (2-3) with 12 points and Casey Wilson added 11.
Mountaineer point guard Gerry Pirkola handed out seven assists and Jack Merrill, starting with Paul Brooks out of town, added eight points.
"Jack Merrill responded real well in the second half and that's a credit to him," said Johnson, noting assistant Rick Olds gave the junior a halftime pep talk.
Unbeaten Iron Mountain hosts Westwood on Thursday, Jan. 3, to open 2013.
"This was a total team effort by everybody involved," Johnson said. "This team is responding, doing well and playing together. There's no selfishness and everybody's cooperating.
"This was the fifth game of the season but every game means something."
Cole Rossato's 15 points propelled the Mountaineer jayvees past the Eagles 48-35.
Iron Mountain 7 7 16 19 - 49
Stephenson 9 18 6 13 - 46
IRON MOUNTAIN: Huotari 19, Pirkola 3, Zambon 19, Merrill 8. FT: 3-4. F: 12.
STEPHENSON: Joslin 2, Brock 12, Raboin 1, Wangerin 5, Wilson 11, Grinsteiner 8, Kau 7. FT; 7-10. F: 10.
3-point FG: Brock 4, Wangerin, Huotari 5, Zambon. FG shooting: Iron Mountain 20-47, Stephenson 20 made. Rebounding: Iron Mountain 21 (Zambon 8, Merrill 5, Pirkola 5).