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Ann Arbor Huron survives scare from tough Belleville Tigers, rallies to set up district-title showdown with Ypsi Lincoln

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, March 12, 2020, 1:34 am

YPSILANTI — If you’re going to go out, the last thing you want to do is to go out getting beat at your own game.

When No. 7-ranked Ann Arbor Huron found itself trailing Belleville by as many as 14 points in Wednesday’s Division 1 district semifinal, the most disconcerting thing for the River Rats was how they’d gotten there. 

With halftime to adjust, Huron tightened down on defense, and relied on Devin Womack to carry the offensive load, clawing their way back by the start of the fourth quarter, and holding on for a 50-47 win. 

“It was not so much physical or mental, it was that we were playing out of character. They were beating us to loose balls, they were the more aggressive team, and that’s just not the way we play. We pride ourselves on being the tougher, more physical team, and being more aggressive to the ball. But they were giving us all we could handle in the first half,” said Huron coach Waleed Samaha, whose team trailed 27-13 with 4:10 left in the second quarter after a 12-0 run by the Tigers (16-4).

Womack scored a game-high 27 points, including the go-ahead bucket just 1:12 into the fourth quarter — the first lead for the River Rats (21-1) since the first quarter — helping make sure Huron survived and advanced.

“That’s pretty much the whole game. They played a lot harder than us in the first half. In the second half, we actually finally picked it up, and that’s how we brought it back to a closer game, and figured out how to win it,” Womack said. “We’re excited to live another day, play another game. I’m happy to have practice tomorrow. Not even just the game on Friday — I’m just happy to have practice tomorrow.”

Friday night, the River Rats are scheduled to play defending D1 champion Ypsilanti Lincoln (17-3) in the district championship game. Rather than be held at Eastern Michigan’s Convocation Center — as Wednesday’s game was — it will revert back to the district host, and be played at Saline High School. 

Whether or not fans will be allowed to attend the game will depend on what the MHSAA announces Thursday morning, when it updates its postseason plans in response to the outbreak of novel coronavirus (COVID-19). 

“We’ll be ready to play, no matter who, no matter where, no matter when,” Samaha said before Lincoln beat Ypsilanti Community 79-51 in Wednesday’s late semifinal.

It took a concerted effort to get the momentum of the game turned, but Samaha wasn’t worried.

“Not with this team. No. We’ve been in too many battles. We practice situations like that in practice, so we don’t get rattled. We know that if we keep competing on the defensive end, we’ll make the adjustments at halftime — we switched a couple of matchups, and decided to guard the ball-screen a little differently in the second half, and I think that gave them a little bit of trouble,” the coach said. “We never panicked, the guys in the locker room never panicked — we just knew we were going to have to fight, and win on the defensive end, because it wasn’t going to happen with us shooting the ball. We were bankrupt tonight, offensively, but we won it with defense.”

Jalen Williams had 10 of his 12 points in the first half for Belleville, as the Tigers led 15-11 after one quarter, and 30-21 at the half, thanks to the 12-0 run that saw them build the lead up to 14.  Huron outscored Belleville 16-8 in the third quarter, cutting the deficit to one, 38-37, going to the fourth, then Womack scored the go-ahead bucket when Julian Lewis found him on a back-door cut to the basket. 

“Devin was pretty much our entire offense, throughout the night. Now, we had some individual plays made in between, but he was our most consistent guy all night,” Samaha said. “They did a good job of shutting our wings and our perimeter down, so it did open up driving lanes for him, and he just made plays.” 

Womack was content to shoulder the load, as well.

“Our coach was saying ‘Keep being aggressive,’ and I was going early, so they said ‘Keep going. Your teammates will pick it up soon,’” he said. “I think the whole season, we’ve always had a player injured, or sick, or somebody out of the lineup. We’ve battled through it every game of the season, so we’re used to it.”

Womack’s pull-up jumper made it a three-point game, 43-40, then a dunk by Mike Robinson made it a five-point margin, but Belleville answered with a 3 from Lorenzo Wright with 2:09 left to cut it back down to a one-possession game again.

“We figured at some point, we’d want to zone them, and when we finally took the one-point lead, we thought ‘Let’s do it now. We’ll live with the consequences.’ They turned around and hit a big shot, but the coaches talked me into staying in it, because you don’t want to give up after one possession,” Samaha said. “We thought we made a good move there — we made a chess move, and they made a better chess move. … We’re just lucky a couple of those shots rimmed out, and we were able to get some rebounds on the offensive end.”

The River Rats were 5 for 6 from the free-throw line in the final 90 seconds of the game, but fouled on one 3-point attempt with 1:16 left, and gave up another 3-pointer to Connor Bush with 8.6 seconds left, cutting it to three, 50-47.

Huron got the ball in to Lewis after a timeout, and the Tigers couldn’t apply a foul to stop the clock before time ran out.