East Lansing — Foster Loyer showed he was well-deserving of the Mr. Basketball award, putting on a pair of performances in the Class A Final Four at Breslin Center last weekend that fans will be talking about for decades to come.
There have been impressive performances on the big stage at Breslin in past years, but not like the two that Loyer put on in consecutive days to make Clarkston a back-to-back state champion after never owning a title before last season.
Loyer followed that with a 40-point effort 24 hours later in a dominating 81-38 state championship game win over Holland West Ottawa, making 14-of-19 shots, including 6-of-11 3-pointers and 6-of-7 from the line to go with seven assists.
Loyer, who entered the Final Four averaging 25.6 points and six assists with 77 3-pointers, wasn’t about to let Clarkston’s opponents have any hopes of knocking out the champs, scoring 17 in the opening quarter of the semifinals, making 5-of-8 3-pointers to give his team a 10-point lead.
In the title game, Loyer was right back at it, scoring 10 first-quarter points to help Clarkston take a 19-4 lead, then 29 by halftime to open a 49-20 margin.
And, to think that Loyer wasn’t even sure if he would be able to play after missing the regular season finale March 1 after suffering a slight meniscus tear in his left knee.
Loyer certainly showed no signs of the injury, moving well, even diving head first for a loose ball and flipping the ball for an assist on a Taylor Currie inside basket to open a 60-42 lead over DeLaSalle with 50 seconds left in the third.
“I don’t think in my 31 years of being a varsity coach that anyone has remotely scored that many points,” DeLaSalle coach Greg Esler said. “He’s a big-time player, makes everybody around him better. He’s out there diving for loose balls, competing for 50-50 balls which ends up being his balls. He knows how to draw fouls and he gets on the good side of referees and that’s all good traits.”
West Ottawa coach Steve Windemuller praised Loyer after his team suffered the most lopsided loss in Class A title game history.
“You have to hope he has a little bit of an off night, what was he yesterday, 12-of-17 and today (14-of-19), it’s the same and you don’t know if he can do it two days in a row, we were hoping he couldn’t do it two days in a row,” Windemuller said. “I told our kids before (the game) I had some people on social media saying that he was going to drop 50 on us and it sure looked like he was going to do that in the first half.”
When asked if it looked like Loyer was being hampered by a knee injury, Windemuller replied: “No, he looked like he was pretty fresh. They only played five guys in the first half and we felt they were clicking and pretty fresh. He didn’t look like a kid that had some type of knee injury so maybe they shot him some shooting solution or something like that because he had something special going on. He’s a special player.”
Loyer is special. He had an ice bag on his left knee heading into the postgame press conference following Friday night’s win. Was he concerned that he had a game the next night with the title on the line?
“No, actually last year I was a little bit more beat up than I was this year so I knew what it took to get through that and I have a pretty high pain tolerance I would like to think so regardless of my injury I was going to come out here and give my 110 percent today,” Loyer said. “I had no issues.”
Keith Appling of Detroit Pershing put on a special performance in the 2009 Class A state championship game, scoring a title game record 49 while making 17-of-24 field goals (5-of-7 3-pointers, 10-of-12 free throws) in a 90-73 win over Kalamazoo Central, but he wasn’t nearly as effective (23 points, 6-of-21 shooting) in the semifinal win over Romulus.
Loyer will go to Michigan State, where Breslin will be his home floor. He connected on 26-of-36 shots during the Final Four (13-of-22 3-pointers) and in his last four games over Clarkston’s back-to-back titles, he has averaged 35 points on 44-of-69 shooting, connecting on 22-of-38 from long range.
“I think it’s my soon-to-be home and I’m excited every time I come in here,” Loyer said. “I can’t wait to get up here. I’m going to be up here in a few months so that’s exciting, but I’m just going to take this moment just to celebrate with my teammates and really just focus on what we’ve accomplished.
“Coming in this summer, you know I can’t wait to start playing with our (MSU) guys. I just have to continue to improve my strength and athleticism. The guards in the Big Ten level are at a different level so I have to be ready for that and I will be this October.”
Loyer did notice that some of his future teammates were at his games during the weekend.
“It was awesome, playing in the Breslin, playing in front of my future teammates, my future family, it was definitely fun,” Loyer said. “I was definitely joking around with a few of the guys after the game last night. I made a shot tonight and kind of turned around, not expecting Tum Tum (Nairn) to be there, but Tum Tum was standing right there so that was pretty exciting.
“Just to be here in front of this crowd, the Clarkston community has done just about everything they could for myself and my teammates.”
Loyer received solid support from his teammates during the postseason run, including Wisconsin-bound 6-foot-9 post player Taylor Currie and senior guard C.J. Robinson, a mid-major caliber player without a Division 1 offer.
Robinson averaged 13.8 points and Currie, 13.1 points and 9.4 rebounds.
Loyer also knows just how valuable Chase Wasilk and Nick Wells have been with Wasilk setting screens and even knocking down a 3-pointer during the 19-4 run to open the title game when Clarkston made five shots from deep range.
In The News preseason rankings, Clarkston was ranked No. 1 with the story noting that it would be a nationally ranked top-25 power with 6-8, 225-pound Thomas Kithier in the lineup.
Kithier was ruled ineligible by the MHSAA, never played in a game and it still looked like Clarkston was a top-25 national power at Breslin.
“These kids have been fun to work with,” said Dan Fife who has been head coach at Clarkston the last 36 years, earning 703 wins. “The way these kids go about business when I’m not there, I don’t need to be there, I don’t have to tell them that they need to get in the gym because they do it on their own
“I don’t know how it started in the gym, but I’m sure Foster had something to do with it. He started getting in the huddle and deep in the huddle it’s family, and these kids are extremely close, good relationships both on and off the court and I believe it’s going to carry on forever.
“This kind of a moment, back-to-back is incredible. These kids have played with a bullseye for four years and continue to play like they have and meet every challenge. It’s a tremendous success story about who they were as kids and how they went about business.”
Loyer and the senior class at Clarkston finished with a record of 97-6, including 26-1 this season and 27-1 a year ago.
Edison adds title to resume
Detroit Edison coach Brandon Neely was all fired up Saturday afternoon, and he had reason to be with his PSL championship team defeating Maple City Glen Lake 53-38 to earn its first state championship in the Class C final.
Neely kept some things in Edison’s arsenal for the postseason, a reason Edison entered March with a 10-10 record. It became the first team since Marquette Baraga (Class D, 1969) to enter the state tournament with a .500 record or worse and win a state title.
“There’s two words that describe what these guys have learned and that’s perseverance and patience,” Neely said. “We had a tough season, but these guys have persevered and continued to dig in and it’s very gratifying to see these guys reap the benefits of hard work.
“I just really feel like they’ve grown as young men and they understand now what it takes to get to the next level whether it be basketball, whether it be school or whether it be whatever that needs to be done. The guys understand that when you’re dedicated to something to commit yourself that you can be successful.”
Edison showcased three Division 1 players in Central Michigan-bound point guard Pierre Mitchell, 6-8 Deante Johnson (Cleveland State) and 6-5 guard Gary Solomon (LIU-Brooklyn) and it was Mitchell who came up big in the championship game, scoring 14 of his 17 points during the final 51/2 minutes of the third quarter to help turn a 25-21 deficit into a 39-31 lead.
Neely leaped and threw a chest bump into Mitchell as he headed to the bench during a timeout following a steal and transition layup during the pivotal run.
“I really wanted to see our seniors go out with a bang and leave a legacy,” Neely said. “We wanted to build a great program over at DEPSA and I’m glad these guys are the foundation and have laid the first bricks.
“We never were concerned about our record going into the PSL because we were confident from the beginning to the end that we were the best team so the way that I organized everything, I don’t want to put all my offense in because we have everybody coming to see us play. We got twenty people in there taping our game so our offense was a little (off). We had to put some things in at the end just so everyone wouldn’t sit on us.
“We weren’t concerned with 2-6 record (going into PSL playoffs) because we had three Division 1 athletes on my team so I had a lot of confidence and was very optimistic that once we got into the playoffs we’d be a tough team.”
That includes Edison’s offense against the zone.
“The second time we played (Detroit) Pershing, it was at home and we were up by 14 at halftime and they went to the zone and stagnated us, but I hadn’t put in the zone offense and it was just letting the guys do things on their own. We knew that when we went in the playoffs that we’d be prepared for any defense that we would play against.”
After two losses to Detroit Pershing, Edison defeated Pershing in the PSL championship game, then rallied from an 11-point first-half deficit to defeat Pershing 63-57 in a regional semifinal.
Edison used that experience to earn the comeback win in the title game with Mitchell knocking down three 3-pointers during the third-quarter run … against Glen Lake’s zone.
Beverly sparks Southfield Christian
MSU coach Tom Izzo had a busy weekend, watching multiple games Thursday, Friday and Saturday at Breslin, catching a glimpse of Southfield Christian’s 6-4 junior guard Harlond Beverly who he would love to have wearing a Spartans uniform one day.
Beverly was ready to play Thursday, then again in Saturday’s championship game.
Beverly scored six during a game-opening 16-0 run in a 71-32 semifinal rout of Dollar Bay.
Southfield Christian was so impressive in the win that it put the running clock in play against Dollar Bay which entered 26-0, something that no one could recall happening in the Final Four before.
Beverly opened the onslaught with a dunk off an alley-oop pass from Caleb Hunter, son of former Pistons guard Lindsey Hunter.
Beverly was even better in the 64-54 championship game win over Buckley. He scored his team’s first 11 points and had 14 points and four steals in the opening quarter to help Southfield Christian get off to a 21-7 start.
Beverly got things done at both ends of the floor, finishing with 23 points, eight steals, seven rebounds, six blocks and four assists.
During the first-quarter run, Beverly blocked Joey Weber’s shot, then hit the ball off of him out of bounds midway through the quarter to give Southfield Christian the ball. Beverly took advantage, making a 3-pointer for a 17-7 cushion.
Scooby comes up big
Carlos “Scooby” Johnson is a sophomore sensation, stealing the show from MSU-bound 6-10 forward Marcus Bingham Jr. in the Class B championship game.
Johnson, a 6-6 forward with an offer from Oklahoma, scored five in overtime, including the winning 3-pointer with 12 seconds left for the difference in a 65-64 win over Grand Rapids Catholic Central Saturday night, earning Benton Harbor its first state championship since 1965.
Johnson made 10-of-20 shots, 3-of-7 3-pointers and grabbed 11 rebounds while going up against GRCC’s tremendous size in Bingham and 6-8, 230-pound Jacob Polakovich.
Johnson, who averaged 18.3 points, 13.1 rebounds and five assists, showed he would be a force during the holidays when he scored 30 in a 71-70 comeback win over Chicago Bogan in the Mayweather Classic in Grand Rapids, scoring nine during a game-ending 11-5 run.
Johnson had a solid supporting cast, including Shawn Hopkins who had 11 rebounds and made a layup as time expired to force overtime against GRCC. Hopkins averaged 15.7 points and 11.4 rebounds to give Benton Harbor a strong 1-2 punch.
Benton Harbor’s senior guard trio of Elijah Baxter, TJ Jones and Devan Nichols caused problems for GRCC point guard Austin Braun (four points, 0-for-7 shooting) after Braun scored a career-high 31 points Friday in a semifinal win over defending state champion New Haven, ending its 52-game winning streak.