Detroit Western claims school’s first state basketball championship, defeats Saginaw Arthur Hill 62-59
East Lansing – One of the more difficult accomplishments in sports is for a team to win a title when it started that season on top.
Detroit Western, a program that accomplished little before this season, started the season ranked No. 1 and ended it on top.
Josh McFolley (19 Points) and Gerald Blackshear teamed for 35 points, 26 in the second half, to lead Western to a 62-59 victory over Saginaw Arthur Hill in the Class A championship game on Saturday before 8,009 at the Breslin Center.
Western (26-0) never played in a state semifinal before this season yet so much was expected from a team that was 6-13 last season, and had won 22 games in Derrick McDowell’s three previous seasons as head coach.
Western shot 26.9 percent (7-for-26) form the field and trailed 25-21 at halftime. The Cowboys scored the first four points of the second half to tie the score at 25-25. The lead changed hands seven times in the quarter with Arthur Hill taking its last lead, 32-31, on a Brian Bowen basket with 3:27 left.
The Cowboys ended the quarter on a 10-2 run with McFolley showing the way with two 3-pointers.
Blackshear scored the first six points of the fourth, the last two baskets off of fine feeds from McFolley, to give Western its largest lead, 47-34, with 5:18 left.
“We knew it was going to be tough,” McDowell said. “When we played them the first time (Western won 69-57 in overtime on Dec. 13) we were down 13 at halftime. Our emphasis was on defense since then.
“We looked at it like a football field. You had to get closer to the goal line (to score). At the end we made some mistakes but we made some defensive stops when we needed them.”
Western made a mental mistake with 2:50 left that nearly cost the Cowboys.
Western senior Aaron Austin got tangled up after getting a defensive rebound and Arthur Hill was called for a foul. Austin retaliated and was called for a technical foul. Austin missed a free throw and Bowen made two free throws to cut the deficit to 47-40. Arthur Hill had possession because of the technical and Eric Davis made a 3-pointer with 2:40 left and the Lumberjacks trailed 47-43.
McFolley then made one of the more important plays of the game. Instead of trying to milk time off the clock McFolley made a driving layup in the half court to push the lead to 49-43.
Karim Murray, a junior forward, then made perhaps his most important play of the season. He made a strong move to the basket, scored and drew a foul with 1:32 left. Murray converted the free throw for a 54-44 lead and on the play Davis fouled out.
Davis, a 6-4 guard/forward, finished second in the voting for Mr. Basketball and has been Arthur Hill’s leader the past two seasons. Davis, who hadn’t been a part of a team that won a district until this season, finished with 15 points, six rebounds, three assists and six turnovers.
“I take full responsibility,” Davis said. “I didn’t step up like I needed to.”
Bowen, a 6-7 sophomore, led Arthur Hill (24-4) with 21 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks.
Western put a stamp on the title when Murray (15 points, five rebounds) made a basket after an Arthur Hill turnover that gave the Cowboys a 61-54 lead with 25 seconds left.
Much has been made of McFolley and Blackshear, both of whom transferred in from Mount Clemens after the end of the 2013-14 school year. Both were integral parts to a Mount Clemens team that lost to Detroit Consortium in the Class C quarterfinals last season.
Both played well, especially in the second half, on Saturday. McFolley tweaked an ankle in the first half but wouldn’t allow that to impede his play in the second. His two 3-pointers near the end of the third quarter helped Western take control.
“I knew it was the last game I’d play in high school,” he said. “I wasn’t going to let some (pain) get to me. As the game wore on the adrenaline kicked in.”
McDowell said the addition of McFolley and Blackshear only added to what he had in place, and that they were not the single reason for his team’s success. After all, Western was 9-0 when McFolley and Blackshear became eligible the second semester.
“I had all the pieces in place,” McDowell said. They weren’t Superman and Batman. It shut up the naysayers that said we couldn’t win without them.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Highlights from this game and both semifinal games can be seen on State Champs! on Fox Sports Detroit Sunday at 9: 00 AM on Fox Sports Detroit