East Lansing – Deante Johnson was well rested and ready to take over in the final minutes of Detroit Edison’s Class C state semifinal game with Grand Rapids Covenant Christian Thursday at the Breslin Center.
After getting into foul trouble in the first half, the 6-foot-9 Johnson made sure he was a factor at both ends of the court down the stretch to help Edison pull out a 55-43 victory over Covenant Christian, which advanced to the state championship game last year, losing to eventual three-time champion Flint Beecher.
Edison (16-10) – the PSL champion that lost to Beecher in last year’s state semifinal game – needed Johnson at his best to advance to Saturday’s 4:30 final against Maple City Glen Lake (24-2).
Edison used its swarming full-court pressure and half-court trap to set the tempo in the opening half, leading 16-6 after one and 28-14 at halftime, limiting Covenant Christian to 25-percent shooting.
But Covenant Christian (22-5) battled back from a 16-point (30-14) third-quarter deficit, forcing turnovers and scoring transition baskets, along with senior guard Tyler Cammenga knocking down three 3-pointers after going scoreless in the first half to pull even at 41 with four minutes left.
It was then when the Cleveland State-bound Johnson took over, making a pair of baseline jumpers to help Edison open a 48-43 lead with 1:40 left.
“We were just going to maintain our composure since we’ve been in a lot of tough battles this year, been battle tested and have had teams come back on us before,” said Edison coach Brandon Neely. “We just maintained our composure and understood what we needed to do.”
And that was to get the ball to Johnson on the right baseline and let him get to work.
First, Johnson made a shot from the right baseline and was fouled, making a free throw for a 44-41 lead.
Then, after Trenton Koole scored off a driving layup, Johnson made another baseline jumper from the same spot as his first one for a 46-43 cushion with 2:30 left, and Cammenga’s 3-point magic ended with a long-range miss seconds later.
“The first thing we do in practice every day is shoot for an hour,” said Neely. “I’m watching Greg (Solomon) and Spider (Johnson), they’re shooting partners, and I know Gary’s going to be confident enough to pass Spider the basketball because he knows he can hit the shot since he does every day in practice.”
No doubt, Johnson wanted to make an impact after spending 12 minutes on the bench.
“I work on it (baseline jumper) every day and I had to come up big for my team,” said Johnson, who finished with seven points, four rebounds and three blocks, making 3-of-6 shots. “I was in foul trouble a lot throughout the whole game so I wasn’t the presence in the middle that I usually am, so I had to make it up somehow in the fourth quarter for my team and I did.”
Edison made seven free throws during the final minute.
Edison 6-5 senior guard Gary Solomon (LIU-Brooklyn) had a double-double (15 points, 10 rebounds) despite struggling from the field (4-of-18 shooting, 1-of-6 3-pointers). Central Michigan-bound point guard Pierre Mitchell Jr. had 13 points and Keith Johnson came off the bench to score 10 in 14 minutes.
Solomon scored eight of his points during the fourth quarter, scoring six straight points to turn a 46-43 lead into a 52-43 cushion with 39.6 seconds left.
Solomon wasn’t concerned when Covenant Christian pulled even.
“We came together at the timeout, they had just tied it, and I just brought everybody together and said, ‘We got this,’” Solomon said. “P.J. (Mitchell) said, ‘Let’s lock in and get it done.’
“I was just trying to be a role player and help out any way I could. I really crashed the boards today, losing our big fella (Johnson) – had to fill in for him while he was in foul trouble – and once the ball came to me late I said let’s come out victorious.”
Solomon made just 1-of-8 first-half shots, but played well defensively, grabbing nine rebounds while taking a pair of charges.
Keith Johnson came off the bench to score six in the opening quarter.
Carson Meulenberg and Koole each scored 12 for Covenant Christian with the 6-6 Meulenberg also grabbing 12 rebounds and blocking two shots.
The outcome left Mitchell with a huge smile on his face. He lost the Class C semifinal his sophomore year as a member of Detroit Loyola when Malik Ellison made a 25-footer as time expired to give Beecher a 60-59 semifinal win.
“This time it feels so good to actually win,” said Mitchell, who will play next year at Central Michigan. “It means a lot to me. I’m just going to take in the moment with my team on Saturday.”
All games at Breslin Center
Detroit Edison 55, GR Covenant Christian 43
Maple City Glen Lake 62, Monroe St. Mary CC 56
Final: 4:30 p.m., Saturday
Southfield Christian 71, Dollar Bay 32
Buckley 65, Hillsdale Academy 55
Final: 10 a.m., Saturday
Warren De La Salle (19-7) vs. Clarkston (24-1), noon
Holland West Ottawa (24-2) vs. Novi (17-8), 2
Final: 12:15, Saturday
Benton Harbor (25-1) vs. River Rouge (23-1), 5:30
New Haven (26-0) vs. Grand Rapids CC (23-2), 7:30
Final: 6:45, Saturday