East Lansing — New Haven knew it would be facing its toughest challenge of the season when it put its 52-game winning streak on the line Friday night against Grand Rapids Catholic Central and its tall and talented 1-2 punch of Marcus Bingham Jr. and Jacob Polakovich in a Class B state semifinal at the Breslin Center.
Yes, Grand Rapids Catholic Central’s size of 6-foot-11 Bingham and 6-8, 230-pound Polakovich matched and even surpassed New Haven’s size of 6-6 junior Romeo Weems and 6-7 senior Ashton Sherrell.
And, with all the size and talent the teams showcased, it was 5-10 junior point guard Austin Braun who proved to be the difference, scoring 31 in a 69-53 GRCC victory over defending state champion New Haven.
Braun, who entered the game averaging 7.8 points and 7.4 assists, had to be at its best with the MSU-bound Bingham on the bench during the final 5:05 after fouling out, picking up a technical in the first half for swinging his elbow after Weems slammed a putback in over him, then another with 5:05 left, departing with 11 points, 13 rebounds and seven blocks with MSU coach Tom Izzo looking on.
Braun scored the game’s first four points, then scored six straight points early in the third quarter to help GRCC take a 37-21 lead, first making a 3-pointer from the top of the key, then making a three-point play (basket, free throw) after making a free throw line jumper in transition while getting fouled.
Braun made 8-of-9 shots from the field and 14-of-16 free throws with the bulk of them coming during the fourth quarter.
“I got a couple of buckets early and my teammates just really got me going, got me hyped on the bench and just telling me, like ‘If they don’t stop you, just score the ball,’” Braun said. “It helps when you have two bigs and Darrell (Belcher) and Devon (Boyd) who are great players around me, so it just opens up a lot for me. If they didn’t step up it was just an easy floater, that’s kind of how I got my points and at the free throw line.”
New Haven (26-1) could get no closer than six (45-39) late in the third after senior guard Tavares Oliver Jr. scored eight, making a pair of 3-pointers, to spark a 10-1 run with Bingham on the bench after picking up his third foul.
GRCC (24-2) set the tempo in the opening quarter when Bingham and Polakovich dominated the glass and either blocked or altered shots to take a 15-8 lead.
GRCC limited New Haven to 30.2 percent shooting, 4-of-21 from 3-point range. Weems, one of the premier players in the country, scored 20, but on 7-of-25 shooting (1-of-8 3s).
“Our guys are really long,” GRCC coach T.J. Meerman said. “When you have 6-8 (Polakovich) with a 6-9 reach and 6-11 (Bingham) with a 7-4 reach coming out at you it’s a little different and I thought they did a great job of protecting the rim.”
Bingham made his first 3-pointer and Polakovich followed with an inside basket to give GRCC a 15-4 lead. Bingham, who blocked four shots in the opening quarter, blocked two more in the second, along with his second 3-pointer to give his team a 29-21 halftime lead.
When asked how it felt to be playing on his future home court, Bingham replied: “It was exciting. We worked hard to get to this point.”
New Haven coach Tedaro France was dejected with the loss.
“We didn’t shoot the ball too well, shot 19-of-63, 4-for-21 behind the 3-point arc and you’re not going to win a lot of games doing that, but I’m just proud of our kids because we weren’t having our best night, but they continued to fight, they continued to play together and didn’t quit.”
New Haven got into foul trouble with Sherrell picking up his fourth foul with 1:25 left in the third. Three of its players fouled out.
“Our depth was not that good this year and we play aggressive style fullcourt defense and sometimes when that’s taken away it kind of limits us to how we can pressure and they knocked down their free throws,” France said. “Braun had a great game. We were more trying to take away their bigs and we picked up some fouls on trying to defend their bigs and he (Braun) had a big game, stepped up and had a great game.”
And, yes GRCC’s size made a difference.
“We kind of adjusted our shots,” France said. “We wanted to attack them. They changed our shot selection a lot, kind of disrupted our shots with their size.”
Oliver scored 15 for New Haven and Sherrell finished with 12 points and seven rebounds.
Polakovich had eight points and eight rebounds for GRCC.
All games at Breslin Center
Clarkston 74, Warren De La Salle 49
Holland West Ottawa 53, Novi 50
Final: 12:15, Saturday
Benton Harbor 60, River Rouge 49
Grand Rapids CC 69, New Haven 53
Final: 6:45, Saturday
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