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Ypsilanti Lincoln pulls away, setting up rematch with Ann Arbor Huron for district title, but will anyone watch?

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, March 12, 2020, 12:04 am

YPSILANTI — Since the start of his high school career, Emoni Bates is the guy they’ve been coming to see. 

And now, they might not see him the rest of the way this postseason.

No, Bates and the Ypsilanti Lincoln Railsplitters didn’t get ousted from the state tournament: They slowly and steadily pulled away from cross-town rival Ypsilanti Community in Wednesday’s Division 1 district semifinal, winning 79-51 to set up a must-see showdown with Ann Arbor Huron in Friday’s district final.

Except there might be nobody there to watch.

Following on the heels of the NCAA announcing their tournaments would be played in spectator-less stadiums in the wake of the outbreak of novel coronavirus (COVID-19), and prior to the NBA putting its season on hold, the MHSAA announced just before tipoff between the Grizzlies and ‘Splitters that its own postseason tournaments would go on, but that the attendance of spectators might be limited — if not prohibited outright.

And with Eastern Michigan University — the host of Wednesday’s game, and many of Lincoln’s regular-season home games this season, to accommodate the crowds that Lincoln and Bates draw — one of the multitude of colleges across Michigan extending their spring breaks and switching to online-only instruction for the time being, Friday’s district final won’t be played at the Convocation Center, either.

The site switches back to the home gym of the district host, Saline High School.

The MHSAA promised an update with plans for all boys district finals and girls regional finals — as well as the remainder of the tournament brackets — by 10 a.m. Thursday morning. 

If they play Friday, it’ll be a doozy: Lincoln (19-3), the Southeastern Conference White Division champ, ranked No. 9 in the final STATE CHAMPS! Top 25, vs. the SEC Red champ Ann Arbor Huron (21-1), ranked No. 7.  

The two teams met at the Convocation Center a little over a week ago, with Huron winning, 64-54.

While Huron squeaked by a tough Belleville squad, Lincoln set up the rematch by steadily pulling away from a squad of Grizzlies (9-12) they’d needed overtime to beat on Feb. 21. 

The Splitters led 15-8 after one quarter, 39-27 at the half, and 59-41 going to the fourth. 

Thanks to 21 points from Elliott Lucas Henderson, the Grizzlies hung around, but couldn’t ever close on the Railsplitters.

Bates finished with 19 points — including 10 in a row when he seemed to annoy himself by missing on a dunk attempt early in the second quarter — while Simon Wheeler had 12, and freshman Braelon Green had 10. Bates also had six assists, while John McCrear had 10 blocks, eight rebounds and eight points. 

Aside from his 12 points in the quarter, Bates provided a bit more excitement in the second, when he picked up one technical foul, and thought he’d gotten another while acting as peacemaker in a scrum with 17.1 seconds left in the half. There were double technicals issued, one to another Railsplitter, and one to a Grizzlies player.