East Lansing — Billy Thomas came out firing.
He was hot in the opening quarter and again in the second half to ensure North Farmington made the most of its first trip to the Final Four Friday afternoon, earning a 60-48 victory over Lansing Everett in a Class A semifinal at the Breslin Center.
Thomas, a 6-foot-1 senior guard scored 26, making 4 of 8 3-pointers. He made two 3-pointers in the opening quarter to help North Farmington take a 9-2 lead to set the tempo and then made two more long-range shots early in the third quarter to spark a 14-0 run to open up a 34-17 cushion.
“I think it’s important to start off well, you just have to come out firing because that’s really going to dictate the game and you can’t start off with a slow tempo,” said Thomas, who wasn’t allowed to play in the state tournament last year, having only played in three games after transferring from a prep school in Virginia.
“I’m here now and I just have to make the best of it. I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time.”
And, Thomas will now face his former teammates in the championship game when North Farmington (24-2) takes on top-ranked Detroit Jesuit (27-0) and Mr. Basketball award winner Cassius Winston Saturday at noon.
Thomas and Winston were teammates at Jesuit two years ago when Jesuit lost to Bloomfield Hills in the semifinals despite Thomas’ 21 points and five steals.
Now, North Farmington will trying to get some revenge against Jesuit, a 52-34 winner over North Farmington in last year’s regional final. Thomas didn’t play in that game, nor did junior guard Amauri Hardy, who scored 15 in the win over Everett. Hardy transferred from Southfield.
“I think they were a little physical against us and we folded a little bit, weren’t used to that atmosphere,” said North Farmington 6-5 senior center Alex Darden of last year’s loss to Jesuit.
North Farmington coach Todd Negoshian was proud of his team’s defense to start the second half, that and his players making the extra pass to get the pivotal run.
“In the third quarter, I thought we really guarded well,” Negoshian said. “I thought we sat down and guarded people and really held them to one shot and done and that was a big key at halftime, it’s what we kept talking about.
“I thought we really shared the ball in the third quarter. We kept it as simple as we could, first open man threw it ahead and instead of taking a good shot we kicked it one more for a great shot to a teammate, and that showed how unselfish we are and how much we just want to win.”
Senior guard Jamyrin Jackson kept Everett close, scoring 27, including 7-of-16 3-pointers.
Everett (16-11) won six straight to reach Breslin for the second straight year after entering the postseason with a .500 record. Everett lost last year to Saginaw Arthur Hill in the semifinals.
Everett stayed close —11-9 after one and within 20-17 at halftime — until that 14-0 run to start the third.
“That hurt us,” Everett coach Desmond Ferguson said. “We always talk about the first four minutes coming out of halftime, trying to get an advantage and they hit two threes and that layup for a quick eight points. It was tough to battle back from that. We had some missed defensive assignments. We had number one (Thomas) get open and that really hurt us.”
And, now four-year starting guard Jacob Joubert will get the chance to do something his father, Antoine “The Judge” Joubert, failed to do. The elder Joubert made two state title game appearances with Detroit Southwestern in 1982 and '83 but didn't didn't win a championship.
“It’s a great opportunity and I’ve played with a lot of these guys since middle school, a couple of them even before that,” said Joubert, who scored seven and capped off the third-quarter run with a 3-pointer. “It’s important that we’re unselfish and we get a lot of assists and we always make the extra pass to get the great shot instead of just good shot.
“I understand to a lot of people we’re going in as the underdog, but that just makes us want to go harder.”