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D1 SEMIS: U-D Jesuit continues to steamroll through playoffs, beating Okemos for slot in finals vs. Ypsi Lincoln

By: Matthew B. Mowery, March 15, 2019, 5:20 pm

EAST LANSING — Detroit U-D Jesuit prides itself on its defense, but that will be tested in Saturday’s state championship match-up.

If the Cubs are to win their second title in four seasons, they’ll have to figure out a way to stop high-scoring freshman Emoni Bates and Ypsilanti Lincoln.

“We know they’re a pretty good team,” said the 6-foot-10 Jalen Thomas, who will probably play a large role in trying to slow down the 6-9 Bates. “They’ve got the No. 1 freshman in the country in Emoni, and they’ve got a couple of pretty good role players, as well, so we’re just going to come out and play the type of defense that we did these last few games, and try to get another win.”

The Cubs (25-2) earned a berth in Saturday’s finals across from Lincoln with a 63-25 win over Okemos (23-3).

Yes, Jesuit (25-2) is averaging 72 points per contest through the postseason, but more impressive to coach Pat Donnelly is the fact that the Cubs are allowing an average of 44 points per game, an average brought down considerably by the 25 given in Friday’s semifinal.

U-D Jesuit held Okemos to 21 percent shooting for the game, and forced 12 turnovers.

“Really excited about the way our guys played today. Defensively, I thought we did a phenomenal job. We came in knowing Okemos shot the ball very well, and we tried to take away their 3-point shot. I was really pleased with the effort we gave, and the effort we gave defensively without fouling,” Donnelly said, putting the emphasis on the recent defensive stretch, rather than the offense. “Well, I think the offense starts with defense. If we play good, solid defense, we can get out in transition. Our transition game really kind of gets us going a little bit.”

The Cubs had 13 points off Okemos turnovers, and 11 points on the break, but it was the 36 points in the paint — led by Thomas’ double-double of 15 points and 11 rebounds, and Daniel Friday’s 10 points — that were key, as well as the 6-for-14 shooting from 3-point range. Jordan Montgomery, who led U-D Jesuit with 17 points, was 4-for-5 from long range.

“We obviously played a really, really good team. Defense was something that we’ve hung our hat on all season, but it was tough to get stops against them. And their defense was terrific,” Okemos coach Jeff Wonch said. “It’s rough. You try to pick and choose what you want to focus on, and — I just thought their composure was very good. When they threw it inside, and we stepped over with a double team, they’re just very balanced, and their eyes are in the right spot, and they’re just under control. Just a tough team, especially when they’re hitting you from the outside and the inside. Tough to choose.”

The Cubs led 19-6 after one quarter, 34-13 at the half, and 49-19 headed to the fourth.

Jesuit has been to at least the quarterfinals six straight seasons, winning the program’s first championship in 2016. Just two players from that title roster remain: Thomas, and Julian Dozier, who got hurt the Wednesday before the championship game, and couldn’t play.

This year’s team is healthy going into the title contest, part of what has contributed to the recent spate of blowouts.

“It’s great being on the floor when we’re playing well like this, and everybody’s clicking, and playing for each other,” Friday said. “So it’s really been a pleasure being with these guys on the floor. It’s been translating into blowouts, and hopefully we can keep that up.”

The Cubs spent much of the year trying to get healthy and whole, for any number of reasons.

“It’s been a very interesting year, in terms of our starting lineups. We’ve had people coming off the bench. We only have three guys on the roster that have played in all 27 games. We’ve dealt with injuries, we’ve dealt with illnesses. We had Caleb Hunter that came in and had to sit out until Martin Luther King Day,” Donnelly said. “This stretch, since Jalen came back from his broken foot, and Caleb became eligible, and guys became healthy, we’ve had that opportunity to build that chemistry. And that’s what I like.”