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Ann Arbor Skyline digs in defensively to hold off Pinckney for district win

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, March 9, 2020, 11:26 pm

BRIGHTON — Why did Ann Arbor Skyline need to lean on its defense so heavily at the end of Monday’s district opener? 

Because Reason.

And also because the Eagles were struggling to close out the game against Pinckney from the free-throw line. 

Despite going 3-for-8 from the stripe in the fourth, the Eagles finished off a 48-42 win over the Pirates by scoring the game’s final five points, and holding Pinckney scoreless for nearly the entirety of the final two minutes of the game. 

“The man-to-man defense and Gabe Kellman did a fantastic job on (junior Dylan) Reason for them, who was just playing his heart out, out there. In the second quarter, he got on kind of a personal run, and we had to switch it up from putting one out our best defenders on No. 41 (Luke Lovell) to focus in on him, because he was doing a great job,” said Skyline coach Mike Lovelace, who even had Kellman start face-guarding Reason in the fourth quarter, to keep the ball out of his hands.

“Because he was hurting us that bad.”

Reason finished with a game-high 24 points, but didn’t score after a 3-pointer to cut the game to  three points with 5:12 left. 

The Eagles (15-6) advance to Wednesday’s district semifinals, where they’ll face Dexter (13-7) in the early game at 5 p.m. South Lyon East (14-7), a 60-54 winner over the district host Bulldogs (8-13) in Monday’s later first-round game, will face rival South Lyon (10-10) in Wednesday’s late semifinal, at 7 p.m.

“Just getting past the first one is important, any way you can, and hopefully you build some confidence. Hopefully when we start out strong, we continue that for longer,” said Lovelace, whose team jumped out to an 11-2 lead, and held a 22-17 advantage at the half.

Skyline started face-guarding Reason — who finished with 24 points — after his 3-pointer with 5:12 left in the game cut the deficit to just three for Pinckney (13-8). He wouldn’t score again, and the Pirates would get just one more score — a 3-pointer by Sean Packard with 1:52 left to make it a 43-42 game.

Will Garnder scored on a curl to the hoop with 1:20 left to make it a three-point game, 45-42, then — after the Eagles missed the front ends of one-and-one opportunities three times — Kabir Bergin hit two free throws with 25.1 seconds left, and Jack Williams split a pair with 13.8 remaining, closing out the scoring.

Bergin and Williams led Skyline with 17 points each. 

Both of them were on varsity a year ago, but this is a vastly different team than that one from a year ago, a team that had a 10-point fourth-quarter cushion on eventual state champion Ypsilanti Lincoln in a regional semifinal, before losing it on an Emoni Bates buzzer-beater. 

This year’s Skyline team is much, much younger, and less experienced.

“We have very little experience in the postseason. Kabir (Bergin) was out last year from the start of January on, didn’t even play in the postseason. Chris Cayton has had some experience. Jack (Williams) had a little bit. They were in the environment, just not playing,” Lovelace said. “We had seven seniors last year, and five of them were starting at the end. This team’s been doing great — they’ve improved a ton. We’ve had games where it’d be Huron and Belleville, and it would be some great games, but other times, if we’re not playing really hard, anybody can get us.”