Neely’s savvy, free throws carry Western to district final
Grosse Pointe – Brailen Neely of Detroit Western played perhaps his worst game of the season in a Detroit Public School League quarterfinal loss to Detroit Collegiate Prep at Northwestern.
But that’s in the past. It’s March and Neely knows what that’s all about. He was at his best on Wednesday as unranked Western upset PSL champion Detroit East English Village Prep, 77-76, in overtime in a Class A district semifinal at Grosse Pointe South.
This must be considered a mild upset, however. After all Western is the defending state champion and the Cowboys are coached by one of the best in the business, Derrick McDowell.
The Cowboys (18-3) had to regroup after their disappointing loss to what was then an unheralded Collegiate Prep team. McDowell got his team ready and it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone if, first, Western defeats Detroit King in Friday’s 7 p.m. district final and wins a regional semifinal before getting a chance to knock off top-ranked U-D Jesuit (22-0) in a regional final.
Ah, but that’s all conjecture at this point. What is certain is that the Cowboys will be a tough out.
“It feels better,” Neely said in reference to the loss to Collegiate Prep. “(East English) can go home with the city (championship). We want the state.”
Western started fast and led 15-4 after a Neely 3-pointer from the top of the key with 3:09 left in the first quarter.
East English (17-5), ranked No. 4, quickly got back in it behind the scoring of Karmari Newman. His basket pulled the Bulldogs to within 24-23 with 4:41 left in the half.
Western settled for a 36-33 lead at halftime.
“We did (lead early) the first time we played them,” McDowell said. “The whole thing was we wanted to dictate tempo. I looked up at the scoreboard and saw the score was in the 40s and 50s. That was good. We didn’t want to get into a high-scoring game.”
Western defeated East English, 58-54, on Feb. 2.
Western maintained the lead throughout much of the third quarter but it was tenuous at best. Greg Elliott’s two free throws gave the Bulldogs their first lead, 45-44, with 52.7 seconds left. Anthony Roberts’ 3-pointer, his only points of the game, gave the lead back to Western, 47-45.
Chris Rollins’ basket tied the game at 47-47 to open the fourth and five more times the game would be tied.
Teams like Detroit Renaissance, Detroit Henry Ford and Collegiate Prep would argue but at this point of the season, and at this point of the game, Western and East English played like the city’s top two teams.
After the first quarter, Western committed just seven turnovers; East English nine. Many shots were rushed but the energy level was at a 10.
Emotions ran high, too, as Armani Tinsley, who had 18 points including four 3-pointers for Western, was assessed a technical with 4:58 remaining in regulation. Newman made one free throw to tie it at 52-52.
Down the stretch each team’s best player took over. Neely scored Western’s last six points in regulation including a 3-point play that gave the Cowboys a 61-58 lead with 1:10 left. Newman scored East English’s last seven points including a 3-pointer that tied the game at 61-61 with 59.1 seconds left.
Western held for the last shot and nearly won it in overtime but Josh Long’s reverse layup on a pass from Neely rolled off the rim as the horn sounded.
Western controlled much of the overtime as just once did the Bulldogs take the lead. Elliott’s tip-in gave East English a 64-63 lead with 2:53 left.
After a Tinsley 3-pointer Murray had one of the key plays of the game. His steal and layup gave the Cowboys a 68-64 lead with 1:51 left.
Newman suddenly got quiet offensively as he scored just two of his 25 points in overtime. Elliott picked up the pace and gave his team a chance. His basket cut Western’s lead to 73-72 with 29 seconds left. His two free throws brought the Bulldogs to within a point again, 75-74, with 18.8 seconds left.
Neely was making hay on the other side of the score sheet. He scored nine of his 30 points in overtime, all from the free throw line. Neely was nine-of-10 from the line in overtime, 17-20 for the game. His two free throws with eight seconds left gave Western a 77-74 lead.
In hindsight, East English would have been wise to foul someone else, especially late.
Still, the Bulldogs had a chance to tie it. They had possession under Western basket and, with 1.9 seconds left, Elliott inbounded to Jaylin McFadden who inexplicitly made a layup to end the game. Elliott immediately went to the left corner after the inbound pass expecting McFadden to give the ball back for a potential 3-pointer.
“It wasn’t that,” East English coach Juan Rickman said when asked what play he had designed during a timeout. “It was supposed to go to Karmari.”
Neely spoke confidently about his team play and his free throw shooting.
“It was in the back of my mind that if I hit those (last) two free throws we’d win,” he said.
Elliott had 14 points and 11 rebounds for East English. McFadden had 16 points and nine rebounds.
For Western Karim Murray added 12 points and eight rebounds.
McDowell said that the experience gained by winning the PSL and state title last season, more than any one fact, was responsible for his team’s victory.
“We had to minimize their offensive possessions,” he said. “They have so many options. But the only one that really concerned me was Newman because he’s the only one who can take you off the dribble and get his shot. McFadden is tough, too.”