Walter Kelser’s free throw with 7.7 seconds left lifts W.L. Central past W.L. Western, 40-39
Commerce Township – The best shot Walled Lake Central junior point guard Walter Kelser took on Friday came without the ball in his hands.
Kelser saw an opening, and his steal, the ensuing foul he drew and his go-ahead free throw with 7.7 seconds remaining lifted the Vikings past rival Walled Lake Western, 40-39, to a Class A district championship at Central.
"He was just dribbling a little bit wild, so, I just stayed there and waited for the ball," Kelser said. "It fell into my lap. I was lucky to come away with the foul and made the shot."
"He’s a star," Central coach Chuck Spolsky said. "He believed, he never quit and a lot of things were going right there, but I just know he saw a loose ball and was moving quick and being aggressive and they fouled him."
Kelser, who had 14 points, made the first of two free throws from the double bonus.
When the second missed, Western’s Marcus Bailey grabbed the rebound and drove the length of the floor. His attempt at a game-winning layup hung up on the rim before falling off, clinching Central’s first district title since 2012.
"I thought it went in. I thought it went in and something pulled it out," Spolsky said. "We were in this situation last year in a triple-overtime game (against Orchard Lake St. Mary’s in the first round of the district tournament) and lost and I thought we deserved this. We caught a break and we needed it and I felt we deserved it."
Central (18-5), the only team to have beaten Western this season, will face Howell (12-10) in Monday’s regional semifinal at Holly.
The Warriors (21-2) shared a Kensington Lakes Activities Association North Division title with the Vikings after splitting during the regular season. Western then won Lakes Conference and KLAA championships, but hasn’t won a district title since 2004.
Though Western had chances late.
Bailey’s putback with 22 seconds remaining gave the Warriors a 39-38 lead. Western came away with a steal and drew a foul on the ensuing in-bounds pass, but missed the front end of a pivotal 1-and-1.
Western was a paltry 5-for-18 from the free-throw line.
"In a game like that, it can come back to bite you a little bit," Western coach Chip Lutz said of his team’s foul shooting. "But, give our kids credit. They played great defense and were physical."
So, too, were the Vikings, who drew several offensive fouls in the second half to swing momentum in their favor.
Take a charge, and take charge.
"Our coach said don’t go for the block, just take charges," Kelser said. "They like to put their shoulder down and that’s what they did and we just sat there and took charges. We sacrificed our bodies for the team."
Anton Lucaj had 11 points, while Adetokunbo Ogundeji had six and 10 rebounds for Central. Bailey finished with 10 points and eight rebounds and Jerald Booker added nine points for Western.
The game featured eight lead changes, the biggest separation between the two teams in the second half being just four points.
"We just worked our way through and found the matchups that we wanted," Spolsky said. "Proud of my players, man, they played really tough. That was a great basketball team we beat.
"We’ve earned it. You can’t say we didn’t earn it."