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K-Central relies on its front court, defeats Romulus, 63-52

By: Tom Markowski, February 23, 2016, 10:45 pm

Romulus – Two teams with a storied state tournament history met in what must be considered a tournament tune-up on Tuesday.

Kalamazoo Central, state champions in 2010 and ’11, re-entered the Class A top 10 at No. 7 this week, is one of many teams with a legitimate shot at the title. The Maroon Giants boast one of the state’s top juniors in Isaiah Livers, a 6-8 post player who’s also adept at shooting from long range. Assisting Livers in the front court are 6-4 bookends Rog Stein and Orlando Little, both of whom possess the physicality and courage to mix it up inside with any of the top front lines.

Central travelled to Romulus to face a team, oddly enough, still in search of an identity and Romulus coach Jerret Smith has two weeks in which to find it.

Though the final score, a Central 63-52 victory, might not matter all that much in the scheme of things, how the teams reached this point does.

Central (15-3) never trailed and took its largest lead, 52-37, on a Stein free throw with 5:12 remaining.

Free throws were as common as a winter’s night chill, particularly in the fourth quarter. Central was 10-of-18 from the line, 19-35 for the game, and the Eagles made all five of their attempts (12-16 for the game).

Livers was steady scoring 12 of his 23 points in the second half. He made a variety of shots from 3-pointers (one), 12-footers to 15-foot turnaround jumpers. He was 4-of-5 from the free throw line. He also had 10 rebounds and six blocks.

The last statistic is of particular note due to the fact that one of Romulus’ tallest players is Trey Carter at 6-2. Carter had three fouls in the first half, picked up his fourth with 4:03 left in the third and was on the bench until the fourth. He fouled out with 5:30 remaining.

Thank you Livers.

Rahsaan Pope, Romulus’ tallest player at 6-3, is more of a perimeter player and is not nearly as effective inside as Carter.

Then there’s Little and Stein. Stein had three steals in the fourth, all led to points. He also had two dunks in the second half and his first was a momentum builder. Romulus had cut Central’s lead to 39-35 with 2:58 left on Jaren English’s basket and the Eagles turned a missed shot into a fast break. Central point guard Jeremiah Richards’ steal at the free throw line prevented Romulus from scoring and his pass to Stein led to a one-handed dunk, and eventually a 3-point play as Stein was fouled.

A Stein theft led to his dunk with 6:17 left that gave Central a 49-37 lead and he made a free throw a minute later after his second steal to give the Giants a 52-37 lead.

Romulus (12-7), state champions in 2013, did make a late charge. Bradeon Morgan and Chance Leslie each made a 3-pointer in the final two minutes, and Kaevon Merriweather made two free throws to bring his team within 57-52 with 35.6 seconds left but that was it.

Central coach Ramsey Nichols was pleased his team took advantage of their superior size but added there’s work to be done before the tournament begins March 7.

“We didn’t play well, at times, defensively,” he said. “We let them get out on the break too much. We probably played better defensively in the first half. As far as those steals, I kind of let them play. If they see they can get in front of their man, take it.

“We’ve got Mattawan and Benton Harbor before the tournament so we’ll see how we finish. This is what we wanted tonight. It was a tight game and we were fortunate to win.”

Stein added 13 points and eight rebounds, and Little had seven rebounds and three points. Jeremiah Vincent chipped in with 11 points.

For Romulus English had 11 points, Morgan eight. Its leading scorer, D’Angelo Hansbro, suffered an injury to his left leg with 1:43 left in the third quarter and did not return. He averages 20 points but was held to four.

This was the last regular season game for Romulus. Its next game will be in a district semifinal on March 9 at Belleville. Smith said the time off will, hopefully, cure some ails.

“The consistency just isn’t there,” he said. “The guys don’t commit themselves to playing defense. They play well for six minutes or so then they don’t.

“Their size? That’s because they didn’t read the scouting report. Any lapses that were there (Central) capitalized on. We were going to double team (Livers) but we weren’t in position to do so.

“We have 14 days to prepare. The way we played tonight it’s a good thing. I have six seniors on this team. It’s up to them how they want to end this season.”