Detroit — Under tough circumstances, U-D Jesuit captured its record fifth consecutive Catholic League A-B Division championship on Sunday afternoon with a hard fought 63-56 win over Warren De La Salle at Calihan Hall.
The record-setting win, however, was one of the furthest things on Jesuit coach Pat Donnelly’s mind.
Less than 24 hours before tip-off, the Jesuit family learned that senior forward Ikechukwu “Ike” Eke’s mother was killed in his native Nigeria after a car speeding down the street lost control and struck her.
“It’s been very difficult,” Donnelly said. “Ike means so much to us. I can’t fathom what it’s like for a kid to lose his mother so tragically, so quickly without any warning.”
Upon hearing the news, Eke hopped on a plane to Nigeria and did not play in Sunday’s game.
Donnelly said that Eke has been at Jesuit since he was 14, and has only been home for three weeks over those four years.
“He’s such a super kid and I’ve talked to his mother a few times,” Donnelly said. “She was very proud of her children, and to see her life end so tragically is just brutal.”
On the court, Jesuit (15-3) turned around a 10-point third-quarter deficit by closing the frame with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Elijah Collins that cut the De La Salle lead to 46-42.
From there, momentum was on Jesuit’s side.
Sophomore guard Daniel Friday had entered the game in the third quarter as Donnelly searched for a shot of life. Friday gave his team exactly what it needed, diving on the floor for loose balls and being active on the defensive end. He also went 5-for-6 from the free-throw line over the game’s final two minutes to help seal the deal for the defending Class A state champions.
“That’s the best game he’s played this year and we needed it,” Donnelly said of Friday. “I couldn’t be more proud of the effort in the last quarter and a half.”
Collins scored a game-high 18 points, junior guard Zachary Winston had 12 and Friday finished with 10 for Jesuit.
It was another timely 3-pointer that stopped De La Salle in its tracks with just under two minutes remaining in fourth, as sophomore guard Julian Dozier hit one from the corner to put Jesuit up 56-53. De La Salle couldn’t hit open looks and missed the front end of one-and-ones as Jesuit pulled away.
“We turned the ball over and Collins hit that (shot),” De La Salle coach Greg Esler said. “All of a sudden you see their energy go up and there’s a reason they’re the state champs. We’ve got to grow up and learn to handle the ball in these pressure situations.”
Jesuit had raced out to a 10-1 lead in the first quarter and appeared ready to run De La Salle out of the building. But Esler’s underdogs kept scrapping, holding a Jesuit team it lost to twice this season by 16 points scoreless for the last six minutes of the first quarter, and turning the game into a slugfest.
De La Salle (11-8) capped a 10-0 run to take an 11-10 lead on its first bucket of the second quarter, and from that point, it was game on.
“I’m proud of my guys,” Esler said. “They kept their composure and got back in the game. We just didn’t get it done at the end.”
After taking a one-point lead into the half, De La Salle opened the second half on an 11-2 run, boosting its lead to 46-36 late in the third.
That’s when the momentum started to swing the other way.
Ryan Anderson led De La Salle with 15 points, while Jordan Winowiecki had 14 and Luke Pfromm 10 in a balanced offensive attack.
For Jesuit, the win caps an unbelievable run of five consecutive league championships. But this game was about so much more.
“We wanted to win for Ike,” Donnelly said. “We talked about it before the game and that was a big motivator for them in the second half. I’m just happy we got it for (him).”
Lutheran North wins C-D title
Macomb Lutheran North captured its first Catholic League C-D championship with a 70-62 triumph over Riverview Gabriel Richard.
The game wasn’t as close as the final score would indicate, as Lutheran North (15-3) used a 25-point second quarter to build a comfortable 43-28 lead at the half.
Gabriel Richard (16-3) came out of the break with a bounce in its step and used a 10-4 run to cut the Lutheran North lead to single digits. But after Lutheran North coach Jeff DeMasse called a timeout to stop the bleeding, his team responded and ended the third quarter on an 11-1 run that was capped by a running 3-pointer at the buzzer from senior guard Elijah Thaut.
“We had zero energy to start (the second half),” DeMasse said. “I called the timeout to get the effort back. We picked it up after that.”
Senior guard Drew Arft led the way with 23 points, while Thaut finished with 13 and senior forward Jack Hilt scored 12 to pace an experienced Lutheran North squad.
“We wrote down goals at the beginning of the year, and everyone had catholic championship on there,” DeMasse said. “Deep down I knew we had something special here with these seven seniors.”
Anthony Brown led Gabriel Richard with 20 points.
Geoff Robinson is a freelance writer.