McEvans' monster 20/20 performance sparks No. 1 Southfield A&T in 'big game' OAA Red road win over unbeaten Royal Oak
ROYAL OAK — All the years the Royal Oak Ravens were bumming around the lower levels of the Oakland Activities Association, waiting their turn to ascend to the league’s top rung, there were occasional ‘big games’ — but never like this.
A raucous home crowd turned Tuesday’s makeup contest against the new No. 1 in Division 1, Southfield A&T, into a championship-style event, and neither team shied away from the intensity.
It was a four-minute span of the second quarter that made the difference for the top-ranked Warriors, as they outscored previously unbeaten Royal Oak, 15-0, to end the first half, and held that margin intact for the second half to win, 60-47, claiming outright control of the OAA Red race.
“It meant a lot to us. We had to prove — some people thought we were going to lose it, we weren’t going to be able to handle the pressure,” said Cheyenne McEvans, who led the Warriors with a 23-point, 22-rebound performance. “So we just had to prove it to ourselves that we belong here that we belong at the top.”
The Warriors (13-1, 6-0 OAA Red) have a comfortable, two-game lead over everyone else in the division, and have four of the final six league games at home, including the rematch with Royal Oak (12-1, 5-1 OAA Red) on Feb. 28.
“This was a game that a lot of people were waiting on, and I’m glad that we showed up.
… When you’re playing a good team, a team that’s undefeated, of course they’re going to come in with a lot of energy, so we couldn’t afford to start slowly. We matched their energy, or in some cases, tried to exceed it. I was happy with our start, and we were ecstatic with our second quarter,” said A&T coach Michele Marshall.
“Our kids have been waiting to play this game. For us, we just take pride in trying to be the best team we possibly can, and our defense gets us going emotionally. It just does. Once we’re playing really good defense, we get a lot of confidence on the offensive end. …
We preach that when you start putting your foot on someone’s head, you gotta keep going. Because good teams are going to continue to play, so we didn’t want to give them that window of opportunity to get back in the ballgame.”
Originally, Tuesday’s game was scheduled for a week earlier, but was pushed back by the polar weather. That postponement certainly didn’t impact the large turnout of fans, who were vocal throughout the game, merely ratcheting the intensity up for both teams.
“We told our kids, ‘Soak it in. Look around. Thank these people that came out and cared about you, and wanted to be here.’ I mean, A&T, they’re No. 1 in the state, and to have that kind of support from our community, and this environment …” said Royal Oak coach Brian Sopata, who has brought his program from the bottom levels of the league to the top over the last half-dozen years. “There were some games (back then) where it was my mom and dad in the crowd, and a couple of parents. I loved it. We had students here. It was a big-game environment. I give A&T credit, they’re the real deal.”
The Warriors jumped out to a 7-2 lead, but the Ravens answered quickly to make it just a 10-9 deficit after one quarter. A Sarah Soraghan 3-pointer made it 20-19 A&T midway through the second quarter, but that was merely the spark the Warriors needed to make their run.
“We knew that they were going to come out ready to play. We answered the bell, I think. That was a fear, that they were going to come out, and we’d get down, and chasing (out of) a hole, but our kids came ready to play, and that was good to see for us,” Sopata said. “Obviously, they’re pretty explosive. … The biggest thing — one of the many things we had concerns about was that we’d let one play snowball into two. They fed off that, man. They fed off a couple of turnovers, made baskets, finished and we looked a little discombobulated, right? If you look at how the game played out, that run was essentially the game.
“But look at the kids they have on the floor that can go do those things. They stepped up big time there.”
The Warriors have players like Toledo-bound Soleil Barnes, who nailed a pair of 3-pointers in A&T’s 15-0 run to end the half.
“She’s a great shooter,” McEvans said. “We know that when she’s hot, she’s going to keep knocking them down, so just kick it to her, let her shoot the ball, let her have it.”
A&T also has McEvans, whose vocal leadership on the floor was evident in the run.
Normally pretty laid back, she was feeding off the crowd’s energy, and in turn, feeding her team.
“I knew I was going to have to step up and get them going, so me being amped got them amped, and that’s what we needed, the intensity to win the game. … We haven’t played in this intense of a game, this loud of a game before. We played tough competition, but it’s never been this loud in the gym, so when we came out, it was a new look for some of my teammates,” McEvans said. “I just continued to play like a big player, get my team involved, got some energy, gave my team some energy so we could pick it up.”
That’s not unexpected for a player who has been a starter since her freshman year, and a captain last year as a sophomore.
“On the floor, you see her as low-key, but in the huddle, she’s never low-key. She’s a kid that’s just a natural competitor. Cheyenne wants to win, and she’s going to give you everything you need to win. … That was the first time you saw it really demonstrative on the floor, but she’s like that in the huddle all the time. It’s just that energy that we needed. We needed somebody to go out there — we got in foul trouble early, and that kid just brought that energy and that steadiness that we needed,” Marshall said. “I have the kid in class, and she’s just that athlete that was a natural-born leader, in the classroom, in the hallways, on the floor. She’s that steadying force — my Lex (Alexis Johnson) can go up and down a little bit, and get that angriness in her sometimes.”
A&T led 35-19 at the half, and kept that margin more or less intact throughout the third quarter, leading 44-28 headed to the fourth. Royal Oak got it back as close as 11 at 49-38 with 3:54 to play, but A&T answered with a 6-0 run to all but ice the game.
McEvans led all scorers with the 23 points, while Johnson added 18, and Barnes had 10.
Soraghan led Royal Oak with 13 points, while Sam Potter and Nila Coney had nine each, and Jessica Adams eight.
The Ravens knew after the game that there was no school Wednesday, which was their first hurdle. The second was getting over their first loss.
“The second thing is mentally going, ‘OK, it’s one game in the season. There’s a lot of season to be played.’ … We gotta regroup, and I’m hoping that we can get back in the gym and practice,” Sopata said. “We’re up in the Red, first time we’ve been in the Red, and Southfield seemed pretty happy about this one, right? We understood it was a big game, but for our kids, this experience — last year, we had a great time playing Marian twice, big-game environments — these kind of games get you better. We just talked about that as a team. We're going to grow from this, absolutely. No doubt about it.”