East Lansing — You blinked, and Saturday’s Class D state championship was already over.
Powers North Central scored a record-breaking 38 points in the first quarter, the most points scored in any quarter of a MHSAA Finals game. Powers made its first 13 shots on the way to its third straight state title with a 78-69 win over Buckley.
Powers North Central also extended its state-winning streak to 83 games.
“You never expect that, kids just roll when they’re on a rhythm,” Powers coach Adam Mercier said. “Offensively you just gotta let them go and they pushed the tempo, that was key for us early. But you knew we were gonna slow down shooting wise and we needed to defend better and we didn’t do that in the first half and in the fourth quarter.”
Powers North Central (28-0) experienced some turbulence after the rolling through that first quarter. Buckley (26-1) still faced a 14-point deficit at the end of the third quarter, but with six minutes left a three-point play from junior Joey Weber sparked a huge 11-1 run to make it 68-65 with three minutes left. Powers would call a timeout and balloon its lead back up with back-to-back floaters from senior Jason Whitens.
“You never think that a team is going to back down, you have to keep coming at them,” said Whitens, who scored 23 on 8-of-11 shooting. “Respect to them for continuing to come at us, that’s what makes the game fun. That’s what it’s all about, two opponents going head to head so they didn’t quit so we had to keep going at it.”
Buckley played a strong four quarters, but when a team shoots like the Golden State Warriors, it’s nearly impossible to beat them. Senior Dawson Bilski feuled the first-quarter outburst, scoring 18 on 7-of-7 shooting and 4-of-4 shooting on 3s.
This senior class for North Central finishes its incredible run with a 108-1 career record and three straight Class D championships.
“You never get used to (winning titles) but for these guys it comes with the territory,” said Mercier, who is in his 11th season coaching Powers North Central. “I said it two or three years ago explaining this group of boys, and now they’re young men, I always talked about that “it” factor. It starts with these seniors, the “it” factor runs through all of them. They all have that “it” that’s going to make them great young men for our program and the North Central community.
There were no tears in the eyes of the Buckley players. They know they played a great game of basketball and a very bright future awaits them with all five starters returning next year.
“We beat them for three quarters,” Buckley coach Blair Moss said. “Our kids could have folded right there, but that’s not us. I told my guys in the locker room, a lot of people dream this, you guys lived it. So we’re going to take a couple weeks and soak it all in and I have a feeling these guys will be right back in the weight room real soon.”
After the game, Mercier wanted to make a big statement about his star senior, who finished third in Mr. Basketball voting in the state of Michigan.
“You guys have seen him play for three years here at the Breslin, you’ve never seen him lose. What else does he have to do to get attention from colleges? If you look at his pedigree, 108-1 overall record, if you want a winner then this kid is eligible for your school right now. This kid over here deserves a DI scholarship. He’s a hell of a player and he deserves that, and I definitely think all of my players believe that.”
Michael Epps is a freelance writer