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Tate hits last-second game-winner, as underdog Chandler Park knocks off No. 1 New Haven and Mr. Basketball in D2 quarterfinals

By: Matthew B. Mowery, March 12, 2019, 10:00 pm

ORTONVILLE — That wasn’t supposed to happen.

Considering top-ranked New Haven defended the play that No. 6 Chandler Park Academy wanted to run in the final seconds of Tuesday’s Division 2 quarterfinal game, Tyland Tate wasn’t supposed to be able to get off a good shot.

And considering that the Rockets, led by Mr. Basketball Romeo Weems were a prohibitive favorite to go back to the Breslin Center for a third straight season — not to mention win their second title in three seasons — Tate’s ice-cold, last-second shot wasn’t supposed to be the one that sent them home.

But he did.

And it was.

Tate’s shot from the left elbow, right in front of the Chandler Park bench, hit nothing but net, splashing through for a 53-51 win with 1.4 seconds left, and — when the Rockets didn’t get a shot off before the buzzer — proved to be the game-winner in the improbable upset.

“That’s been us all year. We’ve been counted out. We’ve been counted out all year. We couldn’t do this, we couldn’t do that. We’re a small charter school, we can’t do it. And the kids have just been fighting all year, just fighting,” Chandler Park coach James Scott said. “Only people that believed are up there (pointing at the fan section), and half of them finally did. But they believed.”

Chandler Park (21-0) heads to the Breslin for the first time ever, and will face River Rouge (22-2) in the last semifinal of the evening on Friday, at 7:30 p.m. The Eagles already made program history by winning a regional title, but don’t feel like they’re done writing a new chapter in the program’s story.

“It’s the best feeling, because nobody expected us to do this. They’re all sleeping. Everybody’s sleeping (on us). But we had to wake them up today” Tate said. “Nobody. From Day 1, we were in the bottom of the rankings. The bottom. Nobody ever believed in us, except us. And we knew. All the hard work paid off, and we’re about to get Breslin and finish it off.”

If the Rockets (24-2) could’ve finished off the third quarter a little stronger, this might have all been a moot point.

Leading by 10 after Jamir Farrior’s three-point play with 1:50 left, the Rockets pushed the lead to 12 with 50 seconds remaining in the third, and were seemingly well in control.

But the Eagles used that last few seconds of the third to gain momentum — getting a steal and a dunk from Jayland Randle, who turned another steal into a long lead pass for a Dajuan Davis layup, cutting the New Haven lead back to eight.

“He’s only a sophomore, and he’s fearless. Sometimes it hurts us how fearless — in the first half, he took some ill-advised shots — but he’s fearless. I told him just keep playing,” Scott said of the lanky, 6-foot-4 Randle’s quick contribution. “He changed the tempo on the 1-2-2 (press), he really did. Caused some problems.”

The Eagles carried that momentum over into the fourth quarter, eventually tying the game at 44-44 a little less than three minutes in, on a pair of free throws by Marquez Steele.

“I knew they were good, seeing them on film, and watching them this year. We knew we were going to meet them. They made a big play at the end, and they went on a big run late in the third quarter. And the game just came down to small plays. We still had a chance, and we missed two free throws late, that was huge, that could’ve put the game away, but they made plays. It came down to making plays. We just came up a little bit short of making the play we needed to make to get the win,” New Haven coach Tedaro France II said. “We knew coming in that we had to take care of the ball, that we had to rebound, and that we had to attack their zone, and we did it for the most part, but we turned it over in key times, missed some key shots and some key free throws, and that was the game.”

Andre Bradford’s 3-pointer with 1:27 remaining broke a 48-48 tie, but Weems got two back on a putback with a minute left, then split a pair at the line with 29.7 left to tie it at 51-51.

Scott called timeout to draw up a play, and there wasn’t a whole lot of question who he wanted to get the ball to.

“I just know the kid. When you coach all year, you know who doesn’t mind taking the big shots. So I knew he didn’t care if he’d miss it or make it. He had the confidence,” Scott said. “We had multiple options, but we ran ‘screen the screener,’ which we knew that Romeo was switching a lot, so we caught them on a screen, just re-screened, and Ty made a big-time shot. Kids execute, and kids gotta make the plays, and he made it.”

It almost didn’t work, though.

“It comes down to making plays. We knew what they were doing, and we took that away, but then he got it, and just made a tough shot. The kid is a good player. And it’s March. You either make big plays, or you don’t. And he made a big play for them,” France said. “We knew the set that was coming was ‘high horns,’ and we took that away. The guard drove, didn’t have nothing, so he tossed it back, caught it, shot it, made it.”

And Tate knew it was good from the second it left his hand.

“Yeah, I knew it was good. It wasn’t planned, though. The plan was to get it to somebody else, but I happened to pop free, and I got a shot, wide-open,” Tate said. “The first option, I was supposed to screen, and come off the wing, but the play didn’t work, so I had to break it, and it got me an open shot. I knocked it down. … All I saw was the rim. I didn’t see nothing else.”

Tate had 20 points for Chandler Park, while Bradford finished with 12. Ronald Jeffery III had 21 points to lead New Haven, while Weems had 12, and Trenell Payne had 11.

“Biggest win in my coaching career. It definitely is,” Scott said. “That’s a great — that’s a state championship team, man. Mr. Basketball. Those guys weren’t going to quit. We knew we were in a fight for 32 minutes. We just had to fight and give ourselves a chance at the end.”

It’s the first time New Haven has not made it to the semifinals since 2016, when the Rockets lost 62-40 to Detroit Henry Ford in the Class B quarterfinals. It’s an ending sooner than they expected, but that doesn’t take a whole lot away from a stellar season, in France’s mind.

“I’m so, so proud of the seniors here, because four of them have been with me now for four years. They won a lot of games, won a lot of championships. They re-wrote the history books,” the coach said. “You have guy like Weems, great kid, great player that left his mark here. Ron Jeffery, Malen Lewis, kids like that who put their blood, sweat and tears into our program, and just kind of took us to the next level. We just gotta continue to learn from this, the young guys. We’ve got some young kids that can play, and I’m glad they got this experience, because this is something you can’t teach here. You can’t teach this. I’m just so proud of our whole team, the fight we had this year.”