North Central starts fast, then holds off Buckley, 78-69, to win its third consecutive Class D title
East Lansing – If you were waiting for a Powers North Central letdown following its last-second, double overtime victory over Southfield Christian on Thursday think again.
The Jets never played better in the first quarter as they stormed to a 38-20 lead and then were forced to hold off a late charge to defeat Buckley, 78-69, in the Class D final on Saturday at the Breslin Center.
North Central (28-0) became the sixth team in state history to win three consecutive Class D titles. The most recent was Southfield Christian (2012-14). North Central is the second Upper Peninsula school to accomplish this feat. Chassell (1956-58) was the first. Chassell also had the state’s longest winning streak (65 games) before the season. The Jets broke that record in midseason and now have won 83 consecutive games.
It’s North Central fourth state title. The first came in 1984.
The Jets scored on 11 consecutive possessions in the first quarter and made 15 of their 18 field goal tries. Dawson Bilski didn’t miss a shot and had 18 points. Bilski was 7-of-7 from the field including 4-of-4 from the 3-point range. Jason Whitens had nine points in the quarter and Marcus Krachinski had five points and five assists.
“I don’t remember us scoring 38 in the first quarter,” Whitens said. “Everyone was clicking. After we beat Christian we sat in the hotel room and we were ready to play. That win only pumped us up more.”
Bilski said he knew his shot was on before the start of the game.
“During warmups I couldn’t miss,” he said. “When I hit those first two threes I felt great.”
Austin Harris, who had 28 points in the semifinals, scored 10 points for Buckley (26-1) to keep the Bears close.
“There were two things,” Buckley coach Blair Moss said. “They shot 93 percent in the first quarter and Whitens backed us down. If we could have stopped those two things we would have been all right. We beat them for three quarters. We could have folded but that’s not us.
“They got their feet wet. They got a taste of it. Now they’ll have to work harder during the summer.”
This was Buckley’s first state final and with all underclassmen in the starting lineup many expect the Bears to be back at the Breslin Center next season.
North Central cooled off in the second quarter and led 54-40 at halftime.
Each team scored 10 points in the third and the Bears steadily worked their way back into the game. A Denver Cade basket cut the Jets’ lead to 66-57 with 5:31 left. Cade had a putback to bring Buckley to within 67-59 with 4:54 left.
There was plenty of time left and North Central coach Adam Mercier did his best to keep his players calm and focused.
“We had to keep (Buckley) off the 3-point line,” he said. “That third quarter was key for us. We wanted to extend their defense offensively to keep the clock moving. We knew we couldn’t keep shooting like that.”
Cade had 25 points and his two free throws got the Bears to within 68-63 with 3:36 left and 53 seconds later Ridge Beeman had a putback to make it 68-65.
North Central ended the comeback attempt on a basket by Bilski and two more from Whitens.
Bilski had 25 points, Whitens 23, Bobby Kleiman 12 and Marcus Krachinski had 11.
Editor’s Note: Remember to watch the highlights from this game and all of Saturday’s Boys Basketball State Championship games on the STATE CHAMPS! HS Sports Show on Sunday morning at 9:00am on Fox Sports Detroit!
For Buckley Harris added 22 points and nine rebounds, and Joey Webber added 15 points and seven rebounds.
It’s been a special, once-in-a-lifetime run for North Central, especially the five seniors in the starting lineup. For players like Kleiman, a senior who got his first chance to start as a junior, it was quite an ending to his high school career.
“Over the past couple of years guys like Seth (Polfus), me and Marcus (Krachinski) didn’t have a shot at starting,” Kleiman said. “We had two great players (Whitens and Bilski) here and they led us. This has been a great ride. It’s been amazing. It’s the team part. Others have individuals. We’re a family.”