• Michigan

Braun scores 31 points to lead Grand Rapids Catholic Central past New Haven, advancing to first Class B final in school history

By: Jeff Dullack, March 23, 2018, 10:30 pm

East Lansing – Although Grand Rapids Catholic Central hadn’t played in a semifinal game since 1992, the Cougars looked like they were right in their element on Friday night as they met defending Class B state champion New Haven in the Class B semifinals at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.

Behind a strong start and a career-high 31 points from junior point guard Austin Braun, the Cougars snapped New Haven’s 52 game winning streak, knocking off the Rockets, 69-53 to advance to the Class B state final for the first time in school history.

In the Class B Final, Catholic Central (24-2) will face Benton Harbor, who defeated River Rouge in the first Class B semifinal of the day, on Saturday evening at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.

“I thought our guys just battled tonight,” Catholic Central head coach T.J. Meerman said. “They battled and competed on the defensive end. That team is a fantastic team, New Haven is, they’ve had an incredible streak, won the title last year, I’ve got a lot of respect for them. We watched six games, and they do a lot of really nice things, so I give them a lot of credit. But our guys, I’m just really proud of their fight and resolve tonight, there were some tense moments, but we regrouped and kept it together.”

After a dismal shooting effort in the first half, New Haven (26-1) looked to make a run in the third quarter as the Catholic Central lead grew to as large as 17, 41-24, after an Austin Braun basket. But a Romeo Weems basket, followed by 11 straight points from Tavares Oliver Jr. helped the Rockets cut the deficit to 44-37 late in the third quarter.

The Cougars would bounce back to close out the third quarter, however, as a Devon Boyd basket helped take the Catholic Central lead back to 10, 49-39 headed to the fourth quarter.

One of the biggest differences between the two teams in the box score on Friday night was the disparity in free throw attempts for the two teams as Catholic Central attempted 36 free throws, while New Haven attempted 18. Braun finished 14-of-16 from the charity stripe to help lead him to his 31 point night.

“I got a couple of buckets early and my teammates just really got me going,” Braun said of his 31-point effort. “Just getting me hyped on the bench, telling me if they don’t stop me, just score the ball. It helps when you have two bigs (Bingham and Polakovich) and Darrell (Belcher) and Devon (Boyd) who are great players around me. It just opens up a lot for me and if they (New Haven) didn’t step up, it was just an easy floater and that’s kind of how I got my points and at the free throw line.”

While Catholic Central held a comfortable lead throughout the fourth quarter, it didn’t go without drama as star senior and Michigan State signee Marcus Bingham received a technical foul, his fifth foul of the game with 5:05 left to play, leaving the Cougars shorthanded the rest of the way.

Frustrated because he was forced to sit for the remainder of the game, Bingham said that his team simply encouraged him to cheer the team on with the hopes he would have a chance to play in Saturday’s state final.

“My team was just telling me to just keep cheering the team on,” he said. “I was just thinking in my head, we’ve got to win this thing, just keep cheering my team on until we get the win and we got it.”

In the first half, New Haven struggled finding any sort of success on offense as the Rockets shot just 23.5-percent from the field (8-of-34) and star junior Romeo Weems was limited to just six points on 3-of-14 shooting.

New Haven head coach Tedaro France said that Catholic Central’s size and length caused problems for his team throughout Friday’s game as the Cougars start Bingham (6-11) and Polakovich (6-8) in the front court.

“We kind of adjusted our shots,” he said. “We’ve seen it on film and we wanted to attack them, we wanted to jump stop and pump fake sometimes and they just changed our shot selection a lot, disrupted our shots in the paint.”

Weems finished with 20 points and eight rebounds to lead New Haven.