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Mesabi Tribune

Warriors stand in Rangers' way of a section final

By By Ben Romsaas Mesabi Tribune,

2023-03-15

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MOUNTAIN IRON—The Mountain Iron-Buhl boys’ basketball team is looking to make it one step further than they did a year before.

Bowing out of the Section 7A tournament last season in a tight loss with Cherry in the semifinals, the Rangers will look to return to the section title game for the first time since 2017 tonight when they take on Deer River at UMD beginning at 5:30 p.m.

Despite the Warriors owning the tournament’s top seed, the fourth-seeded MI-B team dismantled Deer River 88-60 back on Jan. 26. Rangers head coach Jeff Buffetta says the hope is that his team plays well again with the expectation that the Warriors are playing with a vengeance.

“Going into this game, I think we match up pretty evenly,” Buffetta said at practice Monday. “It’s going to definitely be a full, 36-minute type of game. They’ve got shooters all over the floor and I know that we’re going to have to defend really well to slow them down. We did that the first time but doing it again means we’ll have our work cut out for us.”

There’s no doubt the Rangers were on top of their game back when they won in January but there’s two sides to every game.

“I’m guessing Deer River would say they had an off night against us. They’ve got so many shooters that I don’t think they have too many nights where they’re held under 70 points. We’re going to have to be really playing with good intensity and stay consistent on the defensive end. Hopefully on the offensive side, we can finish better than we did this past Saturday.”

On Saturday, the Rangers narrowly escaped the section quarterfinals with a one-point win over Fond du Lac Ojibwe. Buffetta gave credit to the Ogichidaag’s length and defensive work, but there still is cause for concern when shots stop falling like they did that day.

“We just couldn’t finish well. It was tough because Fond du Lac is long and they gave us some issues that had to do with their defense. But in order to win games, you have to score. Hopefully we won’t have any problems like we did a few nights ago.”

Another thing that gave MI-B headaches on Saturday was foul trouble. With a short bench, every extra foul taken could potentially cause disruptions to a lineup that can’t afford to miss its best players.

“We’re not that deep. We’re going to have to keep our guys on the floor. Foul trouble definitely hurt us on Saturday and being able to have your best players playing is important at this time of year. We want them out there as much as we can.”

Regardless, Buffetta says those bench players have shown time and again that they can provide valuable minutes even in a high-stakes environment.

“We have guys that can play off the bench but you have starters for a reason. You want your starters to play solid minutes but also have confidence in all the guys coming off the bench. If they’re being put in there, they’re being put in there for a reason.

“We expect them to go out and make plays. The little things like Riley [Busch] taking two charges for us on Saturday made a big difference. We know those guys can make a difference when they come in.”

As they prepare for the biggest game in the season, the surest thing about the Rangers is that they’re not short when it comes to the drive needed to win.

“I think these guys are competitors. They like playing in games like this and obviously the playoffs mean a lot more than the regular season games. I think they’re excited. This is where we made it last year so now we’re just trying to go another step further. It’s going to take a good team effort to get it done.”

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