MOUNTAIN IRON — The Ely boys’ basketball team had a slight height advantage over Mountain Iron-Buhl Friday night and that would be the key difference maker as the Timberwolves downed the Rangers, 84-66.
That height advantage translated to points for Ely as senior forward Dylan Fenske racked up 35 points, most of which coming from down low.
Fenske opened up scoring for Ely with a bucket on the first possession as Ely raced out to a 12-0 lead to start the contest.
Emmett Faltesek nailed a three, Fenske put in two more off the rebound, Will Davies nailed a three and Eric Omerza sank two from the charity stripe. The quick lead allowed the Wolves to set the tone of the contest early on while making the Rangers play from behind.
“I thought it was important for us to get that,” said Ely head coach Tom McDonald. “Once we set that tone on offense and knew we could play with them, we really started to play well.”
That lead didn’t last long as MI-B freshman Asher Zubich nailed a jumper and scored on the drive on back-to-back possessions.
Nikolas Jesch nailed a jumper and Zubich added five more on a give and go play and a three pointer to draw MI-B even closer. Ely responded with buckets from Fenske, Davies and Bryce Longwell but a three from Josh Holmes and two more off the drive from Hunter Weigel put the Rangers down one, 21-20, forcing an Ely timeout.
“That stretch was nice to see,” said MI-B head coach Jeff Buffetta. “Our guys could match them for spurts today and that was nice to see.”
After the break, Zubich nailed his second three to give MI-B the lead but Ely answered back with nine straight points to lead 30-23.
Zubich got into foul trouble early for the Rangers, picking up three fouls halfway through the opening frame, two of which came from charges on the offensive end.
Getting those charges and forcing Zubich out of the game was a boon for Ely, according to McDonald.
“We haven’t been very good at taking charges and that’s something we’ve been stressing lately. Help step in and take a charge because teams are going to keep driving on us until we do that. I don’t think Mountain Iron drove as much on us after that so it made a difference for us.”
With Zubich on the bench and the tempo of the game back under Ely control, the Timberwolves extended their lead slightly until Zubich re-entered the game late in the half.
Zubich’s presence was immediately felt as he nailed a long two and sank two free throws to bring MI-B back into the game. The Ely posts, however, pulled them back ahead as Fenske and Longwell answered back with plenty of easy buckets under the hoop.
Ely went into the break up 47-36 on the Rangers with Fenske leading all scorers with 20 points. Zubich paced the Rangers halfway through with 19.
His team trailing, Buffetta noted that the Timberwolves were simply outplaying the Rangers, thanks to their height as well as being an older, more experienced team.
“You can see that Ely is just a little bit older and a little more polished in doing things. They do things hard and they do it pretty well. It was nice when we could match them but we couldn’t keep up with them the entire game.”
Ely continued to stretch the lead in the second half. MI-B’s Jesch opened things up with a jumper but Ely answered with their bread and butter and got four straight points from Fenske to lead things off.
Fenske added two more after a Rangers timeout and Joey Bianco scored on the drive for the Wolves to give them the 55-39 lead.
Zubich nailed a three and Riley Busch dropped in two as an answer but Fenske added three more after earning the and one down low.
Ely’s Omerza helped put the game away late, dropping in 11 points in the second half to keep the Rangers at bay.
The final score read 84-66 in favor of Ely. Fenske finished with 35, but probably could have had more according to his coach.
“There are times where we need to finish better at the basket because missed maybe about 8-10 of those point blank shots down low. I think we got away with it tonight because of the height difference but other games we might not be able to get away with it.”
Alongside Fenske, Omerza finished with 17 and Longwell added 12. Zubich led the Rangers with 32 and Jesch chipped in with 15.
Handling Ely’s size was the main problem for MI-B, with coach Buffetta citing rebounding as the team’s key issue.
“We have to rebound better. That’s been an emphasis for us all year,” Buffetta said. “We’re not that physical of a team and we’re trying to work on it but you can only grow up so fast. Hopefully we’ll keep getting better as the year goes on.”
The Timberwolves have rattled off three straight wins after dropping two in a row last week to Greenway and Nashwauk-Keewatin. Turning things around this week was vital for the Wolves, according to their coach.
“The thing is, we keep working hard every day but I think the talent and size of Greenway and Nashwauk got to us last week. I don’t think we could handle that but we recovered well this week and I think we played really, really well tonight against a really good team.”
Ely (11-3) was set to host Duluth Marshall on Saturday, but that game was postponed due to weather. They’ll take on Fond du Lac Ojibwe in Cloquet on Tuesday. Mountain Iron-Buhl (6-8) will host Deer River, also on Tuesday.
Ely 47 37 — 84
MIB 36 30 — 66
Ely: Joey Bianco 6, Eric Omerza 17, Emmett Faltesek 7, Dylan Fenske 35, Will Davies 7, Bryce Longwell 12; Three pointers: Omerza 1, Faltesek 1, Davies 2; Free throws: 18-26; Total fouls: 19; Fouled out: Davies.
Mountain Iron-Buhl: Nels Parenteau 4, Asher Zubich 32, Mason Clines 2, Hunter Weigel 2, Riley Busch 2, Josh Holmes 7, Nikolas Jesch 15, Braylen Keith 2; Three pointers: Zubich 4, Holmes 1, Jesch 1; Free throws: 17-24; Total fouls: 24; Fouled out: none.
Mesabi East 41
At Proctor, the Rails put three players in double figures and limited the Mesabi East offense Friday en route to a 56-41 home win over the visiting Giants.
Ava Hill’s 10 points accounted for the only Giant to hit double figures.
Proctor, meanwhile, got 14 from Sam Parendo, 16 from Liz Frase and 18 points from Sam Pogatchnik, who became the Rails all-time leading scorer (male or female).
Mesabi East kept things close in the first half before Proctor (15-1) closed out the stanza on a 15-2 run. The Giants just couldn’t significantly cut into the deficit in the second half.
Mesabi East (13-2) plays at Cook County on Tuesday.
M. East 21 20 — 41
Proctor 28 28 — 56
Mesabi East: Ava Hill 10, Meghan Walker 9, Hannah Hannuksela 7, Kora Forsline 6, Mia Mattfield 9. 3-pointers: Hill 1, Walker 3, Mattfield 1. Free throws: 6-10. Total fouls: 14. Fouled out: Hannuksela.
Proctor: Sam Pogatchnik 18, Liz Frase 16, Courtney Werner 1, Sam Parendo 14, Morgan Nylund 5, Payton Rodberg 2. 3-pointers: Pogatchnik 2, Frase 1, Parendo 1, Nylund 1. Free throws: 7-13. Total fouls: 14. Fouled out: None.