BOYS BASKETBALL: Romulus, DCD, Beecher and SCS corral state crowns, make the most of trips to Breslin
EAST LANSING – The Breslin Center was brimming with hoops hysteria over the weekend, as the MHSAA held their annual boys basketball state championship games and anointed four new squads as cage kings of 2013.
In Class A, Romulus, after knocking on the door for the last decade, brought home the program’s first state title since 1986 and the Terry Mills era, downing Detroit Southeastern 61-49, in the state finals. On top 28-20 at the half, Romulus outscored its opponents 23-12 in the third quarter to blow the game open and cruise to the hardware.
The Eagles’ Division I college-bound triple-threat of E.C. Matthews (Rhode Island), Wes Clark (Missouri) and Leo Edwards (Louisiana Tech) delivered in the clutch, each hitting for double-figures. Matthews, a deadeye-shooting off-guard, scored a game-high 20 points, while Clark, the team’s floor general and Edwards, the Eagles starting center, scored 13 points apiece. Clark dished six assists and Edwards posted 10 rebounds in the victory.
Back in the semifinals against Grand Rapids Christian, Matthews caught fire and dropped 37 points.
Romulus finished the 2013 campaign 27-1, its only loss coming to Detroit Pershing, a defeat the Eagles avenged in the quarterfinals with a marathon 93-91 win before a jam-packed house at Calihan Hall.
This season was Romulus’ fifth trip to the final four in the past nine years under head coach Nate Oats.
Besides the Eagles ‘Big 3,’ senior small forward Jalon Plummer (seven points, six boards), a wiry and athletic presence on the wing with a great outside stroke, will most likely be playing Division I ball somewhere next season as well.
Southeastern was making its second appearance in the final four in three seasons. Star guard Jovonne Hayes paced the Jungaleers with a team-high 16 points.
In Class B, Birmingham Detroit Country Day wrapped up its ninth state title, taking out upstart Detroit Community 57-49, in Saturday’s finals behind its super-steady backcourt of junior point guard Edmond Sumner and senior shooting guard Austin Price.
Price, signed with Lehigh, scored a game-high 15 points in the state championship game. The heady and versatile gunner was born and raised in Indiana, landing in Metro Detroit in 2010 with his brother Jodan (DePaul), a starter and captain on last year’s Country Day hoop squad. Sumner, who went for 30 points in the semifinals against Cadillac, notched 13 points and converted three straight quarter-ending buzzer-beaters beating his man on drives to the basket in the finals Saturday evening. The 6-foot-4 playmaker is the engine that drives the Yellowjackets’ offense and quickly establishing himself a candidate for the 2014 Mr. Basketball award.
The unheralded, yet tenacious frontcourt of Maurice Ways, Christien Wright and Poet Thomas contained Community’s imposing tandem in the post of Bo Ziegler (South Florida) and Jerrell Martin and registered another in a long line of rock-solid outings controlling the paint with pure hustle and grit. Ways and Thomas are future Division I football players, with Ways (wide receiver) one of the top prospects in the junior class and Thomas (defensive line) signed with Texas Tech. They combined forces with sophomore forward DeShawn Lewis to hold Ziegler, an all-state pick that was in the midst of an torrid playoff run, to only nine points on the night.
Country Day closed the season with a 25-3 overall record, advancing into the program’s fourth straight final four and securing its first state championship since 2010, when the Yellowjackets were headlined by Ray McCallum, Jr. (University of Detroit-Mercy), Amir Williams (Ohio State) and Chris Fowler (Central Michigan).
Kurt Keener has coached Country Day for 35 years, but this was the first time he guided the Yellowjackets to the crown without a Division I-recruit in the middle. Speaking candidly in the post-game press conference, Keener called it "refreshing" to finally get a chance to implement "small ball," after all those years of having a "aircraft carrier" anchoring his attack inside, alas Williams (2010 title), Chris Webber (1989, 90, 91 titles), Shane Battier (1995, 1996, 1997 titles) and Da’Shonte Riley (‘2007 title).
In Class C, defending-champ Flint Beecher snuck past upset-minded Laingsburg 40-39 for the repeat in the game of the day at the Breslin Center where the favored Buccaneers survived a furious final few ticks on the clock, only prevailing after 2013’s Mr. Basketball-winner Monte Morris, blocked a last-moment shot attempt under the rim to preserve the win.
Morris, signed with Iowa State, was the top floor general in the state this year and he showed what a hard-nosed competitor he was on Saturday, as he fought through a bout with food poisoning to still score 16 points, hit numerous big shots and come away with the defensive play of the game.
Beecher (27-1), with Morris at the helm calling shots from the point, ended his prep career playing in four consecutive final fours. Laingsburg was making its first appearance in the state championship game on Saturday and was led by Shaun McKinney’s team-high 15 points.
Like Beecher in Class C, Southfield Christian repeated in Class D. However, unlike Beecher, the Eagles (24-3) didn’t have to sweat out the closing seconds of their state finals match-up, routing to the crown with a 65-46 bludgeoning of Wyoming Tri-Unity Christian.
Junior center Damarco White scored a game-high 15 points and wowed the crowd with a high-flying slam dunk in the third quarter. The standout backcourt of Bakari Evelyn and Lindsey Hunter IV both reached double-digits, too. Evelyn, the team’s all-state sophomore point guard, scored 13 points and Hunter IV, a junior combo guard with NBA 3-point range, scored 11 points.
Evelyn, one of the state’s most talked-about recruits in the Class of 2015, and Hunter IV, son of the former Detroit Pistons and current Phoenix Suns head coach, were on the 2012 state-title team. White was not, having transferred into Southfield Christian this year from Southgate Anderson. The 6-foot-7 jumping jack’s continued improvement over the course of the year was a major reason the Eagles were able to claim back-to-back crowns. Dominating the interior in the semi-finals, he tallied an impressive double-double of 19 points and 15 rebounds.
Sophomore swingman Kameron Garner shined brightly on defense in Saturday’s state championship game, befuddled and stymied Tri-Unity all-state point guard and Class D Player of the Year, Joey Blauwkamp (Cornerstone), limiting him to just seven points on 2-of-7 shooting from the field.
Josh Baker, Southfield Christian’s second-year head coach, was a longtime assistant at Romulus prior to taking the reins with the Eagles in 2011. He is best friends and former college teammates with Coach Oats.
With the majority of their line-ups returning, Southfield Christian and Country Day will be favorites to win state championships again next winter.