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Xavier Tillman, James Beck II power G.R. Christian past Kalamazoo Central, 66-46

By: Tom Markowski, March 21, 2017, 10:11 pm

Lansing – Xavier Tillman had a point to make on Tuesday.

The senior from Grand Rapids Christian said he didn’t think he should have been named Mr. Basketball on Monday but even so, he wanted to prove he was a deserving candidate nonetheless.

Tillman, in front of a standing-room-only crowd at Don Johnson Fieldhouse at Lansing Eastern, including a hundred or more Michigan State fans, made his point quickly as he scored the game’s first six points and top-ranked Christian rolled past Kalamazoo Central and Mr. Basketball winner Isaiah Livers, 66-46, in a Class A quarterfinal on Tuesday.

Christian (26-0) will make its second semifinal appearance in the last five seasons on Friday when it plays Romulus (21-4) at 2:50 p.m. at the Breslin Center.

Romulus upset defending state champion U-D Jesuit 66-63 on Tuesday.

“It was up for grabs,” Tillman said of the state’s most coveted individual award. “Stat-wise, I didn’t perform as well as Isaiah. Isaiah is a great player. We played together and against one another many times. He’s a good guy.

“I was motivated. I came out more aggressive than normal. I wanted to have my teammates jump on my shoulders.”

Tillman, a 6-8 post player who signed with MSU, had nine points and three blocks in the first quarter and his teammates followed their pied piper as the Eagles wore down the Maroon Giants.

Christian led 11-8 at the end of the first quarter, 26-16 at halftime, and the lead could have been larger. The Eagles were 3-of-10 from the free throw line and committed seven turnovers, six in the first quarter.

Livers, a 6-8 forward who signed with Michigan, didn’t score in the first half. He was 0-of-6 from the field and had six rebounds.

Central played well in the third as Rog Stein scored the first two baskets of the quarter and Livers made a 3-pointer for his first points of the game to cut Christian’s lead to 27-23 with 4:25 left.

Bass Ollie made consecutive baskets to bring Central to within 31-30 with 1:21 remaining before the Eagles ended the quarter on a 5-0 run.

Christian blew the game open by opening the fourth on a 16-1 run highlighted by Tillman’s two dunks.

Tillman had help. James Beck II played one of his best games of the season. Beck, a 6-7 forward who signed with Oakland, had 19 points and 14 rebounds. Tillman had 18 points, 10 rebounds and nine blocks.

Central just couldn’t match Christian’s superior inside game.

“You can have guys deal with X for a while,” Christian coach Mark Warners said. “But you can’t do it for long. He wears on you. They did a great job on him the first time we played them. They fronted him and we tried to force the ball into him.

“And Beck is awesome. You wonder if he has a pulse. He so even keel. He’s a real team guy.

“On Livers, we just challenged Set Millner. He did a great job on him in the second half of the first game we played and we went with him. Set Millner was awesome.”

Livers was 4-of-13 from the field good for 11 points and he had seven rebounds. He wasn’t much of a factor when the game was on the line.

Beck said Tillman should have been Mr. Basketball and the fact that he didn’t win it motived Tillman and the rest of the team.

“X should have won it,” Beck said. “He played with a chip on his shoulder. It definitely affected him. He came out like a beast tonight.”

Stein added 10 points for Central, which was outrebounded 29-15 in the second half.

“I think some of our guys were a little too passive,” Central coach Ramsey Nichols said. “And other guys were pushing it too much. We weren’t on the same page.

“X does what he always does. Tonight was their night. Winning Mr. Basketball can be overwhelming. It definitely can be a distraction. But they did what they do. They were the better team.”