West Bloomfield — Michigan State-bound point guard Foster Loyer showed no signs of a knee injury Wednesday night in leading defending Class A state champion Clarkston to a one-sided 58-35 victory Orchard Lake St. Mary’s in a regional final.
Loyer got his teammates involved, then made a baseline jumper after getting bumped by Chizi Nwaopara to open up a 10-0 lead before the game was four minutes old.
It was obvious that Nwaopara was trying to physically get to Loyer, but the Mr. Basketball finalist would have none of it.
Instead, Loyer made big play after big play to help Clarkston (23-1) take a 20-point (28-8) lead with 5:15 left in the half.
Clarkston shot a sizzling 72 percent from the field in the first half, making 16-of-22 shots to take a 38-19 lead and was never challenged the rest of the way.
Loyer had nine points and seven assists in the opening half and finished with 24 points and eight assists and is averaging 24 points during the four-game postseason run.
And, it wasn’t known if Loyer would even be able to play in the postseason after suffering a slight meniscus tear in his left knee late in the season. He sat out the regular season finale March 1, a 48-38 win over Hazel Park to clinch the OAA Red division title outright.
“I’m working through it every day, a lot of ice, but I’m OK,” said Loyer of his injury. “There was a couple of times I felt it catch, kind of give a little bit, but the type of person I am, how I’ve been the last four years I’m going to play.”
Loyer will be trying to become the first Clarkston player to earn the Mr. Basketball award since Dane Fife — MSU assistant coach and the son of Clarkston head coach Dan Fife — won it 20 years ago.
And, it was Dan Fife who earned career win No. 700 with the regional title to put him third in state history behind Roy Johnston of Beaverton and the late Lofton Greene of River Rouge.
Now, Clarkston will advance to Tuesday night’s state quarterfinal at Grand Blanc against Flint Carman-Ainsworth (23-2), a team it beat 72-67 on Dec. 7.
“I’m just proud of our program,” said Fife of the milestone win. “I’m proud of the kids who have played for me and who they’ve become and how hard they played here because I know if they play hard they’ll be successful in life.”
Fife has been impressed with how much success his current team has enjoyed and talked about the start.
“We know we have the bull’s-eye on our back all the time so the one I’ve told the kids is don’t be nervous about scoring, be nervous about guarding and I think with that approach they don’t put a lot of pressure on themselves having to score,” Fife said. “Everybody pretty much knows where their shots are going to come from and when they get them I’m fine with them shooting. If they miss it, they miss it.”
Clarkston didn’t miss much in the first half.
Senior guard C.J. Robinson finished with 13 points for Clarkston and 6-foot-9 senior Taylor Currie had 10 points and four blocks, playing in front of his future coach, Wisconsin head man Greg Gard. Senior guard Nick Wells had four points, 10 rebounds and five assists.
Sophomore guard Lorne Bowman scored 20 for St. Mary’s (15-8) making 5-of-8 3-pointers. Sophomore Anthony Enechukwu came off the bench to score 10.
Fife witnessed the physical play of Nwaopara on Loyer, especially in the opening minutes.
“That’s what all the great ones do to be honest with you, they don’t let someone take you out of the game mentally or physically,” said Fife of Loyer. “He knows he’s going to get that. Every game he plays he has a huge bull’s-eye. I’ve talked to him about keeping his composure with that stuff and he’s done a great job with it.”