Class A final: Western captures first state title in school history
East Lansing — PSL champion Detroit Western added the title of state champion for the first time in school history and head coach Derrick McDowell was dancing across the Breslin Center floor in celebration.
And, it was senior guard Josh McFolley who led the way in unbeaten Western's 62-59 win over Saginaw Arthur Hill Saturday afternoon in the Class A state championship game.
McFolley, who transferred from Mount Clemens with 6-8 Gerald Blackshear, scored 10 of his 19 points during the third quarter, eight during a pivotal 8-2 run to close out the quarter to open up a 41-34 lead.
McFolley made two 3-pointers during the final 1½ minutes of the third, the second long-range shot from the top of the key from 25 feet out with 20 seconds left.
"We need that from him because the way Josh plays, it keeps teams honest," McDowell said. "You have to be able to guard him wherever he is on the floor and it opens up other opportunities."
And, it almost didn't happen since McFolley went down with an ankle injury in the final seconds of the first half.
After making a pass to Karim Murray, an Arthur Hill player got tangled up with McFolley, who rolled his ankle. He remained on the floor while his teammates walked to the locker room, trailing 25-21 at halftime.
"I made a pass and his leg came under my foot and I rolled it," McFolley said. "I knew it was the last game of my career in high school so I had to take advantage of it. I wasn't going to let a little soreness get to me. I knew my team needed me so I just stuck it out and went out to play my best."
McFolley's best would be more than enough. He continued to make big plays in the fourth, first finding Blackshear inside for a basket to open the quarter, then getting out of a trap to find Blackshear alone to open a 45-34 cushion, followed by yet another pass to Blackshear for Western's largest lead (47-34) with 5:16 left.
Arthur Hill coach Greg McMath called a timeout with McDowell throwing a fist in the air while greeting his players in a rare display of emotion.
Blackshear finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds, scoring nine during the fourth quarter.
"I was taught by my coach the cream always rises to the top and you can shake it up how you want, but the cream rises to the top and before the game is over usually ballplayers surface," said McDowell of Blackshear's fourth-quarter uprising.
"I thought it was a group effort again. At halftime, we told Karim Murray to quit settling for threes and start getting to the basket and in the second half he did a better job of that. Gerald got good looks and it opened it up for Josh, and Brailen (point guard Neely) did what he always does and that's orchestrates our offense and defense."
Murray scored 15, eight during the fourth quarter, including a three-point play (basket and free throw) for a 10-point lead with 1:32 left while fouling out Mr. Basketball runner-up Eric Davis in the process.
Murray, a 6-3 junior, also played outstanding defense on Davis, a 6-3 senior guard headed for Texas, limiting him to 15 points on 6-of-15 shooting.
Still, it was McFolley who stood out at both ends of the floor, grabbing five rebounds, dishing out five assists while getting six steals.
"Great players make great plays and he hit a couple of big threes," said McMath of McFolley. "We didn't hedge out on him and he stepped up when they needed him. He got some big steals too."
McDowell credited Western's defensive effort in the second half for the difference. Western limited Arthur Hill to 11-of-27 shooting during the final two quarters, 3-of-11 3-pointers.
"We knew it would be a tough battle," said McDowell, noting Western's 69-57 comeback win over Arthur Hill in early December. "They were up 13 at the half, that first time we played them, and the only way we got back was from the defense.
"At halftime (of the title game), that was the big emphasis, of getting them in the fullcourt and making them work to get down the court."
Sophomore sensation Brian Bowen, who is being recruited by Michigan State, scored 21 for Arthur Hill (24-4), but made just 5-of-13 shots, 2-of-6 3-pointers.
Arthur Hill came back to pull within 47-43 with just under three minutes left when Bowen made two free throws following a technical foul and Davis followed by banking in a 3-pointer.
McFolley answered Arthur Hill's run with a driving layup and Arthur Hill could get no closer than three with Nate Moore's inside basket with two seconds left.
"It was like, we're going to end this right now," said McFolley of his layup. "This game has to come to an end. We're not going to blow this game and let the refs take it from us. We're going to come together like brothers, just like we always have and get this job done."
In the end, McDowell felt like he had the team to win the state championship … before the arrival of Detroit-bound McFolley and Blackshear, showing that with a 9-0 record before they became eligible, including the early win over Arthur Hill.
"I had all the pieces anyways," McDowell said. "They were extra pieces. We won without them. We weren't looking for them to be Superman and Batman, to come in and save us. When they became eligible it just added to it."
And, of that pump fist heading into a timeout when Western (26-0) took the 47-34 lead, and celebration dance?
"It's very seldom that I show emotion, but to be honest with you it means a lot to me personally," said McDowell said. "It's the fourth time here (state championship game appearances the previous times at Detroit Redford) and I finally got it."
Neely, the junior point guard and captain, was thrilled with the turnaround from 6-15 last season, saying, "Last season we were humbled so we came in more hungry and listened to Coach Mac to see what he had to say for answers. This has been a great experience. I expected us to be better this year, but never thought we'd win a state championship."
And, that's the reason McDowell was dancing all over the Breslin Center floor before being grabbed and hugged by the Western players. He finally got his state championship because they paid attention to detail to get it done.