East Lansing — Carlos “Scooby” Johnson of Benton Harbor wanted to steal the spotlight away from Michigan State-bound Marcus Bingham of Grand Rapids Catholic Central in the Class B state championship game Saturday night at the Breslin Center with Michigan State coach Tom Izzo looking on.
And, Johnson — a 6-foot-6 sophomore who has an offer from Oklahoma — did just that, knocking down a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 12.2 seconds left for the difference in Benton Harbor’s wild 65-64 overtime win.
“He’s been doing that all year for us, I was so confident that was going down,” said Benton Harbor 6-4 senior Shawn Hopkins, who was a hero in his own right after making an inside shot as time expired to force overtime.
Johnson finished with 24 points and 11 rebounds, making 10-of-20 shots from the field and 3-of-7 3-pointers with his last one earning Benton Harbor its first state championship since consecutive Class A state titles in 1964-65.
Hopkins finished with nine points and 11 rebounds; TJ Jones, 10 points, Devan Nichols, nine points and five rebounds and Elijah Baxter, seven points and six assists.
“All day I’ve been thinking about this W,” Johnson said. “It had been a wild up-and-down game, runs, fouls, a whole lot of fouls and it came down to who had the most heart and the best shot and the shot was on me and I was confident in that shot.”
Johnson showed he would be a factor from the opening tip, scoring his team’s first four points and blocking a shot by 6-foot-8, 230-pound senior Jacob Polakovich to set the tone.
Sure, it was the 6-11 Bingham (21 points, 13 rebounds, 8-of-16 shooting) who thousands of fans had their eyes on in the title bout, but it was Johnson who was among three Benton Harbor players who each made a 3-pointer during a pivotal stretch in the third quarter to open up a 45-38 lead.
First, Jones made a 3-pointer from the left corner for a 39-35 cushion, then Nichols made a long-range shot from the right corner for a 42-36 lead and Johnson’s 3-pointer came from the left corner to end the 9-3 run.
Some fans entering the game wondered if Bingham would be able to play, thinking he had two technical fouls called on him in GRCC’s semifinal win over New Haven Friday night. The first call, when he was whistled for swinging an elbow, was called an intentional foul, leaving him able to play in the title game.
Things looked gloomy for Benton Harbor after Darrell Belcher (21 points, nine rebounds) made a 3-pointer from the right corner off an inbound pass for a 54-51 lead with 40 seconds left in regulation.
After Johnson misfired from 3-point range, Baxter made both ends of a 1-and-1 to pull within 54-53. GRCC point guard Austin Braun was fouled, but cashed in on just one free throw.
It was Baxter who went on the attack and found Hopkins underneath for a layup as time expired to force the four-minute extra session.
Bingham then made a 3-pointer from the right corner to give GRCC a 60-57 lead, only to have Johnson answer with an 18-footer to cut the deficit to 60-59.
Again, Benton Harbor had to fight back after Belcher, who entered the game shooting 24 percent from deep range, made his third 3-pointer in a six-minute stretch to open up a 63-59 lead.
And, fight back Benton Harbor did when Nichols scored off a driving layup to get within 63-61. Then, after Nichols made just 1-of-3 free throws to cut the deficit to 63-62 — after getting fouled on a 3-pointer — Belcher made just 1-of-2 from the line, setting the scene for Johnson’s heroics and a wild celebration to follow seconds later.
Braun had trouble with Benton Harbor’s quick guards after scoring a career-high 31 in a semifinal win over River Rouge Friday. He finished with four points and two assists, going 0-for-7 from the floor.