Michigan State coach Tom Izzo took a seat on press row at Calihan Hall three years ago this week and got a glimpse of a couple of his future players competing when U-D Jesuit played Clarkston in a Class A state quarterfinal.
It was Cassius Winston’s junior year at U-D Jesuit and Foster Loyer’s freshman season at Clarkston, and Winston made a layup off a backdoor cut in the final seconds for a 56-54 win to give him his first trip to the Final Four at the Breslin Center, also the site of his future home.
And, Winston’s teammate Elijah Collins played lock-down defense on Loyer, limiting him to 10 points on 2-of-9 shooting.
Well, Winston went on to lead U-D Jesuit to the state championship the following year before moving on to Michigan State, where he is now the Spartans starting point guard.
And, Loyer, safe to say, has never had a game like that since, a reason he helped Clarkston win its first state championship last year and is the favorite to repeat this week.
Oh, and Collins isn’t doing too bad either. Already with a scholarship locked in his pocket to play running back next year at MSU, he will be on the court tonight at Calihan Hall when U-D Jesuit plays Catholic League rival Warren DeLaSalle for the right to move on to the Breslin Center this weekend.
The final week of Loyer’s career started off with him winning the title of Mr. Basketball Monday, mirroring Winston’s final week two years ago.
Still, Loyer is more focused on getting his team back to the Breslin Center to get the opportunity to repeat as state champs. Clarkston (23-1) will play Flint Carman-Ainsworth (23-2) in a quarterfinal at Grand Blanc.
Loyer scored 32 when Clarkston defeated Carman-Ainsworth 72-67 back on Dec. 7.
“I’m concentrating on our team, looking forward to what our team is going to do, the individual stuff we’ll take care of later,” Loyer said. “It would be a great accomplishment, an honor to be named with those other guys who have previously won it (Mr. Basketball) though. It’s always been an individual goal of mine since I’ve stepped on the floor, but I’m more focused on the team.”
No doubt, Clarkston coach Dan Fife thought earlier this month that Loyer wouldn’t even be on the court after suffering a slight meniscus tear in his left knee during the final week of the regular season. He missed the regular season finale with his teammates stepping up to defeat Hazel Park 48-38 to win the OAA Red division title outright.
But, Loyer has played, and played well, averaging 24 points in Clarkston’s four postseason games despite noticing discomfort in his knee, saying after Wednesday’s 58-35 regional final win over Orchard Lake St. Mary’s: “I’m working through it every day, a lot of ice, but I’m OK. 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.”
Fife earned his 700th career win in Wednesday’s regional title game. So, is he surprised with Loyer’s play, knowing the extent of the injury?
“Yes, I am, but competitors do that and he’s a great competitor,” said Fife who has a 700-170 record in his 36 years of guiding Clarkston’s program.
So, is Loyer Mr. Basketball?
“In my mind no question. What he’s done for this program and how he goes about business. They don’t come around like him very often.”
Novi’s surprising run
After dropping a heartbreaking 67-66 double-overtime loss to West Bloomfield in last year’s regional championship game, Novi came back and won the regional championship by handing Ann Arbor Skyline its first loss, 61-59, Wednesday night on Traveon Maddox’s driving layup with 2.8 seconds left.
Maddox, a 6-foot-5 senior guard who will play next year at Oakland, is averaging 19.5 points and 4.5 rebounds, helping Novi (16-8) to four straight postseason victories after a 12-8 regular season.
Novi opened the season with five losses in its first six games, including a one-sided (72-56) loss to Skyline in the season opener.
But, Novi had 6-4 senior point guard Trendon Hankerson return from an injury and added 6-9 transfer Tariq Woody during the second half of the season, leading to the turnaround.
Novi has now won 15 of its last 18 games, with fourth-year coach Brandon Sinawi watching four of his players score in double figures in the regional title game with Woody scoring 18, Hankerson, 13 and 12 apiece from Maddox and junior Jiovanni Miles.
Actually, all four average in double figures with Hankerson averaging 14.7 points and 4.3 assists; Miles, a 6-3 junior, 15.3 points and five rebounds and Woody, 12.5 points and nine rebounds.
Novi showed it would be a factor when it handed Canton its initial loss of the season with a 61-56 victory in the KLAA tournament Feb. 23, then defeated Canton again in the districts, 60-58.
Now, Novi will face Belleville in today’s Tuesday’s second game of a quarterfinal doubleheader at Calihan Hall, following the Warren DeLaSalle-U-D Jesuit game.
While Novi could be considered a surprise team in the quarterfinals, needing to get past Canton and Skyline, the same can’t be said about Belleville, which was The News No. 2 team in the preseason rankings.
Belleville (20-5) struggled early in the season, dropping three of its first four games — losses to Canton, PSL champion Detroit Edison and Skyline — before regrouping and winning 19 of its last 21 with a talented group, led by MSU-bound 6-9 forward Gabe Brown and the backcourt of Davion Williams, who will play football for the Spartans, and point guard Kaevon Merriweather.
Belleville also has received contributions from Devin Alverson and Connor Bush who is a transfer from Plymouth, which is also the same school Woody played last year.
DeLaSalle vs. U-D Jesuit IV
U-D Jesuit has owned its Catholic League rivalry with Warren DeLaSalle in past years, and the teams will meet for the fourth time this season in today’s quarterfinal at Calihan Hall.
The last time the teams met at Calihan, U-D Jesuit rallied from a 46-40 fourth-quarter deficit to earn a 64-55 win in the Catholic League championship game back on Feb. 25, marking the 11th straight win in the rivalry.
And, it was senior guard Zachary Winston, younger brother of MSU point guard Cassius Winston, who led the comeback, scoring 10 of his 17 points during the fourth quarter.
It was the second close game between the teams this season, with U-D Jesuit also pulling out a 59-57 victory on Feb. 10.
“We did everything we wanted,” said DeLaSalle longtime coach Greg Esler following the game. “We had the tempo. We had the score where we wanted it. We just didn’t get the final score that we wanted.”
In fact, it was more than four years ago, Feb. 9, 2014 that Esler did get the score that DeLaSalle wanted, defeating U-D Jesuit that day, 63-58.
Esler and DeLaSalle are hoping the 12th time is the charm.
All games Tuesday
Warren De La Salle vs. U-D Jesuit, at Detroit Mercy, 5
Flint Carman-Ainsworth vs. Clarkston, at Grand Blanc, 7
East Lansing vs. Holland West Ottawa, at Lansing Eastern, 7
Belleville vs. Novi, at Detroit Mercy, 7
Benton Harbor vs. Williamston, at Ionia, 7
Dearborn Divine Child vs. River Rouge, at Chelsea, 7
New Haven vs. Bridgeport, at Corunna, 7
Grand Rapids Catholic Central vs. Boyne City, at Big Rapids, 7
Detroit Edison vs. Unionville-Sebewaing, at West Bloomfield, 7
Grand Rapids Covenant Christian vs. Sanford Meridian, at Central Montcalm, 7
Kalamazoo Christian vs. Monroe St. Mary C.C., at Kalamazoo Loy Norrix, 7
Maple City Glen Lake vs. Iron Mountain, at Petoskey, 6
Cedarville vs. Dollar Bay, at Escanaba, 7
Southfield Christian vs. Flint International, at Goodrich, 7
Marcellus Howardsville Christian vs. Hillsdale Academy, at Portage Northern, 7
Buckley vs. Hillman, at Gaylord, 7