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Roseville knocks off No. 7-ranked Dakota, ties up MAC Red race

By: Matthew B. Mowery, January 16, 2019, 12:05 am

ROSEVILLE — A prolific offense may have gotten Roseville bumped up into the Macomb Area Conference’s Red Division, but the Panthers know that sustained success in the MAC’s upper circuit is going to take a bit more on the other end.

That type of improved defense helped the Panthers knock off No. 7-ranked Macomb Dakota, 63-56, on Tuesday night, tying up the two teams atop the MAC Red standings.

“Last year, we came out and made a lot of 3s and won a bunch of games, and people thought we were a good offensive team,” Roseville coach Hassan Nizam said. “This year, we took it personal. We simply told ourselves this, a simple philosophy: You need eight straight wins to win the state championship. The law of averages says you’re not going to shoot well eight straight games. You gotta be able to compete at a high level. The kids are buying into it.”

[EDITOR’S NOTE: As our ‘Main Event’ this week, video highlights from this game will be included in this week’s State Champs! High School Sports Show at 9 a.m., Sunday, Jan. 20.]

The Panthers (10-1, 5-1 MAC Red), who lost to Dakota (8-2, 5-1 MAC Red) by three in the first meeting back in December, now control their own destiny with four games to go in the divisional race. And they got a bit of payback, both for the earlier loss, and for the one in regionals a year ago at the hands of the Cougars.

“Yes, it feels really, really good. But we know we’re going to see Dakota in the MAC tournament, probably and the regional,” Nizam said. “Right now we put ourselves in good position — we don’t have to rely on anybody to win the MAC Red. We just have to go out every night, take care of our business, and we’ll be champions, when it’s all said and done.”

From the Cougars’ perspective, there’s still a long way to go.

And coach Paul Tocco is hoping his team has the same reaction as it did when Roseville snuck out a one-point win on the Cougars’ floor late last season. The Panthers won 79-78 on March 1, but the Cougars returned the favor with a 44-39 win in the regional semifinals 12 days later.

“We’ll be ready to go in the MAC Red Thursday night.  Last year, late in the year, that team came in and beat us at the buzzer, at Dakota, and I tell you this: What happened last year was motivating. It burned inside. That’s why — I think that had a lot to do with when we met them in regionals, we had a little bit of fire. I’m hoping that history repeats itself, and we can come out and play,” Tocco said. “We can play with that team.”

Several times in Thursday’s game, the Panthers threatened to pull away from the Cougars — especially with Dakota’s Ryan Rollins on the bench for a good portion of the first half with three fouls — but Dakota never let the deficit get beyond 10.

“This team is very resilient. Eight, 10-point leads aren’t a big deal to us. We’re going to execute, make shots,” Tocco said. “They’re a good team, and you can’t ever let them get beyond that — if they get beyond that, there’s too much to overcome.”

Roseville led 27-17 in the second quarter, but the Cougars came back with a 6-2 run to end the half down just 29-23, and briefly took a lead at 33-31 in the third quarter, but Roseville regained the lead for good with DeShaun Wright’s buzzer-beating putback, giving the Panthers a 40-38 lead headed to the fourth.

An alley-oop to John Ukomadu made it a 50-44 lead with 4:50 left, but the Cougars got the deficit back to just one possession on a steal and layup by Joshua Hines, making it 57-54. The Cougars wouldn’t score again, and Rollins — who had been held to 18 points — was injured on a layup attempt with 44.14 seconds left, and had to be carried off the court.

“He’s probably the most talented guard we’ve faced all year. I hope he’s OK. … Every time he’s got the ball, we have 10 eyes on him. You’re not guarding him by yourself. You got a guy on your left, a guy on your right, a guy behind you, and 10 guys screaming from the bench, to get the ball out of his hands,” Nizam said. “The way our guys defended him I thought was the difference tonight.”

Hines had 13 to go with Rollins’ 18, while Mark Tocco had 12.

Tocco, whose team went 19-for-30 from the free-throw line, said Roseville’s doubling defense wasn’t anything they hadn’t done before, and his team did what it needed to, in order to execute against it, but just didn’t get the results in buckets or made free throws.

“I just talked about them (free-throws) in the locker room. We’re going to do a lot of them (Wednesday). We can’t miss eight in the first half, against a state-ranked team. … It just can’t happen. You gotta be more efficient from the free-throw line early on,” the coach said. “We just talked about the little things. It was a one-possession game when Ryan got hurt, and we probably missed two or three box-outs that turned into layups. We probably missed two or three opportunities on just little throw-aways on little things we did. Those are the little things, obviously, when you go to another gym like this, you gotta do those things. We didn’t, and that’s why they won, and we’re sitting over here, figuring out what we gotta get better at.”

Playing with teammate Jason Hunter’s jersey, because his own had split down a seam, Martell Turner had nine of his 15 points in the fourth quarter, while Darien Banks had 13 of his 16 in the first half.

“Martell Turner is probably the most underrated guard in Macomb County, hands down,” Nizam said. “We put the ball in his hands, found the match-up, and just let him go. He made play after play. It was unbelievable to watch.”

Roseville hosts Utica Eisenhower on Thursday, while Dakota visits L’Anse Creuse North Thursday, then takes on Harper Woods Chandler Park Academy in Saturdays’ Horatio Williams Freedom Classic at Warren Fitzgerald.