By KEITH SHELTON
For The Daily News
POWERS - The North Central Jets knew what they were in for Monday night.
Keith Shelton/Daily Press Photo
North Central’s Jason Whitens drives to the basket ahead of Munising defender Garrett Blank during the first quarter, Monday night at Powers.
After scouting Munising heavily, the Jets expected a slow-paced game with limited possessions; a drastic change from the style that the Jets run and are accustomed to forcing on their opponents.
But come late in the second half, the Mustangs did run, because they had to.
"It was a tale of two halves. The first half both teams were feeling each other out offensively, because we both scouted each other pretty heavily," said North Central head coach Adam Mercier. "It was two good defensive teams going at it, but it wasn't sloppy basketball by any means."
It was a battle of the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked teams in the Upper Peninsula Monday night as the Jets hosted Munising (15-1), and thanks to a late rally, the Jets kept their perfect 17-0 record intact with a 45-41 victory.
Munising under head coach Dan Waterman, has long favored the limited possession game, having played that style under Irv Dieterle at Westwood. It's a scheme that certainly makes it hard on the Mustangs opponents too. The Mustangs came out in the first half and held the ball for a minute or longer each possession. When the Jets finally did get a chance with the ball, their offense sometimes seemed rushed, versus the methodical and disciplined Mustangs.
"The way we look at is, you have it for a minute and maybe we don't score, but it's a minute that they aren't scoring too," Waterman said. "If the game is in the 80s, they're going to win. The closer it is to 50 or even 40, the better our chances are to keep pace with the offensive juggernaut that they are. I'm extremely proud of how my guys came out and played.
"We did a good job controlling the tempo in the first half and holding them to limited shot attempts. It's no secret. Adam knew it was coming. He knows if we can somehow get to the regional that it's coming again."
Even the most conservative fan in the jam-packed North Central gym probably didn't expect the 13-13 score at halftime, but it wasn't for poor shooting or lack of effort. Both teams probably shot close to 50 percent in the half, they just didn't get many chances.
"We missed some bunnies, but overall I was pretty happy with the first half because we didn't get many shots off," said Mercier. "We defended really well. We gave up a little too much inside but that's what they do."
Freshman guard Jason Whitens paced the Jets in the first half, scoring nine of NC's 13 first-half points. He generated a couple second-chance opportunities, hit a triple in the first quarter and used his 6-4 frame to drive inside.
"It makes our team pretty good when they're taking away our top scorers like Travis Vincent and Rob Granquist, allowing Jason some more wiggle room," said Mercier. "Our team balance and depth allows a guy to have a good half or good quarter."
Ben Stasewich, who used every bit of his 6-foot-6 frame, kept the Mustangs close, drawing the point after the foul on a handful of his buckets. He led Munising with 20 points and probably nearly that many rebounds as well.
Toward the end of the first half, Munising had drawn North Central in to its tempo. That changed as the second half began.
Munising still kept pace, making the most of its chances, but North Central started to pick up the pace, getting into the flow of their offense.
"You can't run with those guys," Waterman said of the Jets. "They have too many weapons over there. We have guys that can play, but every one of their guys is a great shooter and ball-handler."
It was 23-23 entering the fourth and Munising struck first with a big triple from Colin Immel. But the Jets responded with a 10-0 run that effectively decided the game. Vincent scored his first field goal of the game, followed by a putback from Caleb Martin, a 3-pointer from Vincent and a 3-point play from Rob Granquist, and North Central led 33-26.
"Predictably, it loosened up a bit in the second half, but our kids hung in there. We hit a shot in the fourth quarter to take the lead, and they came down and matched it," said Waterman.
Vincent had a lot of respect for the Mustangs following the game.
"We met our match tonight," he said. "That was a really good team. They're really good on defense and you could tell they had a really good scouting report on us. It was a grind out there. It was a really good game and I'm really glad we came out with the win."
Stasewich scored the next four points for Munising with two free throws and a layup, in between a jumper from Whitens. It was Trevor Ekberg however, that delivered the decider. He put up a long three-pointer under pressure from the left sideline and was fouled on the good shot, giving him the opportunity for a rare four-point play. He missed the foul shot, but North Central had a 38-30 lead at that point.
After Stasewich drew another point after foul bucket, the game descended into free throws. The Mustangs drew close but the Jets shot just well enough at the line to seal the victory.
Rob Granquist and Whitens led the Jets with 13 points apiece. North Central won the junior varsity game 67-35.
The Jets have won 21 straight regular season games dating back to a 63-56 loss at Munising on Feb. 18, 2013, nearly a year ago to the day.
They will wrap up their regular season with a three- game stretch that begins Friday as North Central hosts Bark River-Harris. The Jets then play at Forest Park on Feb. 25 before hosting Mid Peninsula on Feb. 27.
"The quality of teams in the U.P. right now, if you have three losses, that's usually good enough for a top-5 ranking in the U.P. or at least honorable mention," said Mercier. "That's just not the case this year. There are teams with great records and some really athletic teams top to bottom. We know Munising is going to be one that we circled on the calendar. I'm sure they're expecting to see us again for a rematch, and if that happens we'll look forward to it, because it will be a great game."
Munising 9 4 10 18 - 41
N. Central 7 6 10 22 - 45
Munising - Immel 8, Kelto 3, Cooper 2, Blank 6, Hill 2, Stasewich 20; FT: 8-18; F: 15; Fouled out: Hill; 3-point field goals: Immel.
North Central - R. Granquist 13, Vincent 7, Whitens 13, Martin 4, Ekberg 8; FT: 12-17; F: 18; Fouled out: None; 3-pt field goals: Vincent, Whitens, Ekberg.