East Lansing — Flint Beecher seemed destined to win the state title after the incredible game-winning shot Malik Ellison made to win Thursday’s Class C semifinal. You can check out the Friday morning SportsCenter Top 10 plays for that 25-foot miracle.
Grandville Calvin Christian nearly gave Beecher a piece of its own medicine when its potential game-winning jump shot with seven seconds left went up in the air.
“We had a two-point lead, and what we talked about was we couldn’t let them shoot a three,” Flint Beecher head coach Mike Williams said. “We wanted to close out and make them put the ball on the floor. Fortunately our kids dug in and got the last stop and they finished the game.”
The shot bounced out and Grandville couldn’t get another one up before the buzzer sounded, giving Beecher the 63-61 win for its fourth state title in the last five years.
With 30 seconds left, Beecher was up 62-61 and had the ball, but Grandville opted not to foul and try to force a turnover instead. The decision backfired and the ball found its way to junior center Levane Blake under the basket, who was fouled on his shot. He missed the first free throw but made the second, which set up Grandville with 15.3 seconds left and a chance to make a play.
“We got a couple shots off at the end, and I told our guys we have to get the rebound if we miss,” Grandville head coach Ryan Stevens said. “Nate got a shot off and a couple other guys got a hand on it. They didn’t stop fighting, and I’m proud of them.”
Guard Tony DeWitte's 15-foot jump shot from the right baseline rimmed out. Nate Knee pulled down the rebound, but Blake blocked his follow-up shot, sealing the win with three seconds left.
“I knew I had to get the block for us to win,” Blake said. “I was scared when I went to block it because I thought the referee was going to call a foul. But I had to go for it. I didn’t foul him, it was all ball.”
Ellison, an Associated Press first team All-State selection, led the team with 21 points on 8-of-16 shooting. He made big plays when he had to, making up for his small 5-foot-8 frame with relentless physicality and elusiveness. He was also a finalist for the AP Class C Player of the Year award.
Sophomore center Blake Verbeek came alive for Grandville in this game with 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting and an impressive 5-of-6 3-pointer. With 3:30 left and Grandville gaining momentum, Verbeek made a huge block and then nailed a crucial 3-pointer, which tied the game at 55-55.
But Beecher always seemed to stop a run Grandville was putting together and answer it, especially here when Ellison pushed it up the floor quickly and found Jordan Roland for a quick 3-pointer to respond.
“One thing we talked about earlier was that if they score, let’s push the ball right back up the court and push it right back at them,” Williams said. “I was confident that Jordan was going to make it, and if he didn’t then we were going to hustle back on defense and get a stop.”
Beecher was coming off an incredible finish in Thursday’s semifinal game against Detroit Loyola, where Ellison hit the game-winning 3-pointer to send his team to the state finals. The team took advantage of some mistakes from Loyola in the final two minutes, including multiple missed free throws.
“We were supposed to lose on Thursday, so we came into this game like we didn’t have anything to lose,” Williams said. "I woke up this morning so positive, with no anxiety, and I just felt that we were ready."
“We had to get a stop to win, and that’s the identity of our program, that’s what we hang out hat on is our defense. The offense fills up the stands and gets the crowd jump up and down, but defense wins championships.”
Beecher has been established as a powerhouse under Williams, winning the Class C state championship for the fourth time in the past five years. But Williams has established something special that’s beyond the game of basketball.
“It shows the poise and composure and resiliency of our team,” Williams said. “These weren’t just basketball games, these were life lessons that these kids went through. Understanding adversity, picking yourself up when you get knocked down, and playing until the final buzzer are all extremely important.
“It says the world about our kids, and not just our kids, we want to represent the entire Flint area and what we’re going through. We’re fighters, and in the end we are going to come out with a win. We did not only want to win tonight. We want to represent our home and show what you need to do to be successful."
Michael Epps is a freelance writer