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G.R. Christian gears up for tournament, crushes Godwin Heights, 82-62

By: Lenny Padilla, March 1, 2016, 10:55 pm

(PHOTO CREDIT: Rich Prepetit)


Grand Rapids – Xavier Tillman is so big and strong, even with two defenders hanging on his back, he still scores. It’s like watching a freight train with no brakes thundering through the lane.

The Grand Rapids Christian junior forward seems to enjoy the contact.

“It’s hard to stop me because I’m 6-9, 260,” Tillman said. “So I might as well go to the hole, because all they can do is foul me since they can’t block my shot.”

Tillman, one of the top juniors in the state, had 24 points, 20 rebounds and six blocked shots to lead Christian past Wyoming Godwin Heights, 82-62, in front of a sold-out crowd at Christian on Tuesday.

Christian (18-1) is ranked No. 3 in Class A. Godwin Heights (17-3), the defending Class B champions, is ranked No. 1 team in Class B.

“It was just a fun game,” Christian coach Mark Warners said. “(Godwin Heights) coach (Tyler) Whittemore and I were talking before the game about what a fun atmosphere this was. We’re going to try to keep scheduling it.”

James Beck, a 6-7 junior, scored 12 of his 16 points in the second half for the Eagles. He also had seven rebounds and two blocks. Duane Washington, a 6-2 sophomore, had just one point in the first half, but had three 3-pointers in the second half and finished with 13 points and seven assists. Thad Shymanski, a junior guard, hit some big shots in the first half, added 11 points and three assists.

 “Thad’s a kid who does that all in practice, too,” Warners said. “We’re not surprised at how good he is. He had 15 points on Friday against Lowell. He put up some big shots (tonight) when we needed it and handled their pressure really well. He kinda slinks around and then all the sudden hits you with the dagger.”

Tillman scored five seconds into the game and the Eagles led 37-22 at halftime.

Warners said he’s not surprised by anything Tillman does. But it helps having a couple of big players in practice to keep him honest.

“Once he catches the ball, it’s hard to defend him,” Warners said. “You can defend him from catching the ball sometimes. But if we get the ball down low, he’s tough to defend. Just ask some of the guys on the team who have to try it in practice.”

So who is Tillman’s toughest competition on the team?

“I think Jonathan Winkle, who is a senior, is the dirtiest one out here, the most physical,” Warners said of the 6-2 forward. “But Andrew Mulder is the most physical, he’s 6-7. No one else really wants to go in there.”

Tillman knew he had a size advantage over the Wolverines.

“Be aggressive. Be really aggressive,” he said of his approach. “I knew they didn’t have a true big man, and I didn’t think anyone on their team could stop me.”

Another player who was hard to stop was Beck. He’s big, long and a difficult matchup.

“JB? He’s a killer; he’s a beast down low,” Tillman said with a smile. “He’s a real versatile player, he can go inside and outside. He’s really good with the ball in his hands.”

It was a tough loss for a strong, athletic Godwin Heights team. But junior guard Christian Rodriguez, who had 19 points, said he’s focused on districts when the Wolverines open with No. 9 Wayland Union (17-1) on Monday.

“It’s a good experience and a great crowd,” said Rodriguez. “It’s just getting us ready for Wayland. That’s the only thing that matters. Even though we lost (tonight), the records start 0-0 in the postseason.”

Warners was impressed with Rodriguez, who stepped up when teammates Leon Redd and Lamar Norman had a hard time scoring.

“Christian is a really good point guard,” Warners said. “He’s really smart. If he shoots it like he did tonight … he’s really good. He’s athletic and handles the ball really well.”

Norman, an outstanding sophomore forward, was held scoreless in the first half and finished with 13 points overall. Redd had five points.

“I was proud of how hard we played on defense tonight, specifically on (Norman),” Warners said.