Emoni Bates’ game-winning 3 lifts Ypsilanti Lincoln past Ann Arbor Skyline in regional semifinal
YPSILANTI — With the game tied, and only 10 seconds left on the clock in Tuesday’s regional semifinal, there wasn’t much doubt who Ypsilanti Lincoln coach Jesse Davis was going to draw up a play for.
No doubt at all.
Lincoln got the ball in to freshman sensation Emoni Bates, and he delivered a go-ahead 3-pointer with 3.8 seconds left, giving him 26 points in the game, but more importantly, giving the Railsplitters a 58-55 lead.
“No, no brainer. No brainer at all,” Davis said with a chuckle. “I just told them exactly what we would do if they were in man, we would run a little 1-4 set for him, but they ended up running zone, and I drew up a play for that. Really, it was jus screens to get him into an open spot. He practiced that shot a million times. I knew he could hit it.”
Ann Arbor Skyline got off a contested attempt to tie the game before the buzzer sounded, but it went off the backboard, sending much of the capacity crowd spilling on to the floor.
Lincoln moves on to Thursday’s regional finals, where it will face Novi Detroit Catholic Central, a 73-51 winner over Wayne Memorial in the first semifinal of the night.
School officials were hoping the crowding issues would lessen when the fans of the first two teams left the gymnasium, but it didn’t, as the stands on all four sides of the court were jammed full, with overflow beyond each baseline.
There was no question who they were here to see, and when the crowd was in full-throat, it helped energize the Railsplitters’ rally from down 10 points in the fourth quarter.
“That makes me — that just brings all my energy out, because I know they came here to see a show, and that’s what I’m going to give them,” Bates said, dismissing the idea that they were at all concerned down double-digits in the fourth. “I just told my teammates, just to keep playing, play through it, and that’s what we did.”
Bates wasn’t surprised his number was called, either.
“I already knew. I was ready for it. I like shots in tough times like that. Especially in crunch time. I need that. That’s what is going to make me better,” he said. “I’ve worked so hard on my jump shot, when I let it go, I knew it was going to go in.”
Even with the Eagles playing a 2-3 zone modified to take away the 3-pointer by pushing the two wings up, Bates was still able to connect on seven 3s in the game. In part, he was just shooting over the defense.
“He’s 6-(foot)-7, 6-8, and his wingspan is 7-foot, so yeah. If he gets it up, he can get it off on anybody. If he takes his time, he can hit that shot,” Davis said. “Actually, no one has played zone against us all year long like that, so — we see a little bit of zone — but Skyline, they were prepared, they knew exactly what to do, and they gave us a tough time with their zone. My hat is off to that zone. It was tough to play against tonight. … The zone is a little bit confusing, makes it look like you can’t get to the paint. So we had to knock some shots down today. My hat off to Skyline. He did a great job on the defense.”
It didn’t completely stop the Railsplitters from hitting from the outside, though. In total, they had more 3-point field goals (10) than 2-pointers (7) in the game.
“We mix things up, depending on who we’re playing. We thought it would be effective tonight, trying to stop their 3s, and rebound, because they’re a very good 3-point shooting team, and don’t get the ball inside very much,” Skyline coach Mike Lovelace said. “Tried to extend out as much as we could, and they still hit some long-range bombs.”
None was bigger than the one hit by Tahj Chatman right in front of the Lincoln fan section with four minutes to go in the fourth. Skyline had outscored Lincoln 5-0 over the first half of the final frame, getting a 3 from Jaylin Cooper and a cutback from Davion Pipkins to extend the lead to 10 points, at 50-40, before Chatman’s 3 started to bring the Splitters back.
Robert Malcom Jr. hit four straight free throws in the final 2:05, but the Eagles missed their final three tries from the stripe, as they tried to close it out.
“I honestly did think we were going to pull away a little more. Once they got the huge crowd support … it’s a huge game and it’s hard to simulate anything like this,” Lovelace said. “We thought we’d be able to secure the ball, hit some free throws and seal it. One or two calls, here or there, a few things, and we’re having this conversation. … We figured we’d do exactly what we’d been practicing, and secure the ball, his some free throws. We had our opportunities to seal the game. It was right there.”
Amari Frye converted a three-point play with 1:05 left, then tied the game with a putback with 30.5 seconds left, then fouled out two seconds later, trying for a steal on the inbounds play. After Skyline missed two free throws, Lincoln got it back, and called timeout with 10 seconds left to draw up the final play.
“You know it’s going to him. They’ve got one or two other guys that hit some clutch shots down the stretch, too. They set a nice little flare screen,” Lovelace said. “That’s his favorite shot, stepping in the corner from the wing. That kind of poise and just wanting the ball — that’s a special player.”
Where did it rank, among the shots he’s hit in his freshman year?
“First. Definitely first,” Bates said.
Ryan Wade finished with 20 points for Skyline, while Cooper had 11. Frye had 14 for Lincoln.