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Playing with heavy hearts, U-D Jesuit overcomes second half deficit to win fifth straight CHSL A-B title

By: Jeff Dullack, February 26, 2017, 8:00 pm

Detroit – As Detroit U-D Jesuit looked for its fifth consecutive Catholic League A-B title, the Cubs were playing with heavy hearts on Sunday afternoon.

On Saturday, star forward Ike Eke learned that his mother had tragically passed away after being struck by a car and returned home to Nigeria to be with his family.

Playing for its teammate, U-D erased a 10 point deficit late in the third quarter by the early stages of the fourth quarter and would go on for a 63-56 win over Warren De La Salle for a record fifth straight Catholic League title.

U-D head coach Pat Donnelly said that along with wanting to win yet another league title, his team was driven throughout its comeback in the second half, wanting to win for their teammate.

“We were motivated because it was our opportunity to win five straight Catholic League titles, which has never been done,” he said. “But we were also motivated because we wanted to win for Ike, we talked about it in the locker room before the game, we wanted to send him a celebratory video when we were finished and that was a big motivator for them in the second half like ‘Hey we’ve got to get this done’ because I know Ike and he would have felt guilty if we lost.”

After overcoming a slow start to take a one point lead into halftime, the Pilots would build their lead to 10, 46-36 late in the third quarter after a Justin Fischer basket.

But the Cubs would come storming back in the closing minutes of the third quarter as a 3-point play from Daniel Friday would trim the deficit to seven and a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Elijah Collins to end the third quarter would make it 46-42.

“The momentum shifted right after that shot,” said Collins. “Once I hit that shot, the whole gym erupted and it gave us the energy that we needed so desperately.”

The Cubs didn’t cool off in the fourth quarter, opening with a 3-point play from Scott Nelson and back-to-back baskets from Collins would put U-D ahead, 49-46.

De La Salle wouldn’t go quietly, however as a Ryan Anderson triple would tie the game up at 49-49, but a basket from Zach Winston moments later would give the Cubs the lead for good as they would pull away in the final minutes.

Donnelly said that the difference for his team down the stretch was its play defensively, citing De La Salle’s ability to score in transition throughout the second and third quarters which helped the Pilots take a sizable third quarter lead.

“I was disappointed with our defensive intensity,” he said. “We were getting beat in transition and that’s where they made their run. When we started out 8-0 or 10-1, they started getting out in transition and beating us and that’s a defensive intensity issue. Same thing with the beginning of the second half, when they (De La Salle) got up by 10, that was because we were missing easy shots and we were getting deflated and weren’t guarding.”

Collins scored a game-high 18 points to lead the way for the Cubs (15-3).

De La Salle head coach Greg Esler said that he felt the tempo of the first three quarters of Sunday’s game played right into what his team wanted to do, but the final minutes of the third quarter proved to be the turning point.

“It was two turnovers,” he said. “We turned the ball over and Collins hit that three at the buzzer and all of a sudden, you see their energy level go up. I thought prior to that, we were doing a really good job of spreading them out and doing what we wanted to do and the tempo was definitely in our favor.”

Anderson and Jordan Winowiecki each scored 14 points to help lead the way for De La Salle (11-8).

With his team’s fifth straight league title in hand, while holding back tears, Donnelly admitted that the previous 24 hours had been obviously difficult for his team.

“It’s been very difficult,” he said. “Ike Eke means so much to us, he’s been here for four years. I can’t fathom what it’s like for a kid who comes here at 14, he’s been home a total of three weeks out of the four years he’s been here and to lose his mother so tragically, so quickly without any warning is just devastating. Our prayers are with him and his family and I know he has a lot of support here from the U of D community and the team.”