Nearly half of The News Top 20 teams are sitting on the sidelines, not having a shot at winning a regional championship Thursday night for the right to play during the final week of the season.
Still, the top four teams are alive in hopes of reaching the state finals March 14-16 at Breslin Center in East Lansing.
Top-ranked and defending Class B state champion Benton Harbor passed a major test Tuesday night with a 63-59 win over previously unbeaten Otsego (No 16). Benton Harbor will face Hudsonville Unity Christian in the regional final at Wayland.
No. 2 New Haven and Mr. Basketball front-runner Romeo Weems defeated Goodrich, 78-45, and will face a Pontiac team that defeated No. 5 Clarkston — which was sent to the sidelines in the opening round of districts — in a Division 2 regional final at Imlay City.
No. 3 U-D Jesuit, the seven-time Catholic League champion, defeated league rival Warren De La Salle, 62-51, and will face Grosse Pointe North in a Division 1 regional final at Southfield A&T.
No. 4 River Rouge defeated Chelsea, 65-46, and will take on Dearborn Divine Child in a Division 2 regional final at Milan.
Clarkston, No. 7 Williamston, No. 9 Canton, No. 11 Muskegon, No. 12 Detroit Cass Tech, No. 14 Ann Arbor Pioneer, No. 15 Flint Carman-Ainsworth, Otsego, co-No. 20s Mount Pleasant and Detroit Renaissance all have been beaten, either in the districts or in Tuesday’s regional semifinals, including Muskegon’s 68-62 loss to East Kentwood.
No. 6 Flint Beecher (Division 3), No. 8 Bridgeport (Division 2), No. 10 Saginaw (Division 1), No. 13 Grand Rapids Catholic Central (Division 2), No. 17 Ypsilanti Lincoln (Division 1), No. 18 Okemos (Division 1) and No. 19 Roseville (Division 1) also are still playing.
Lincoln and 6-foot-8 freshman phenom Emoni Bates will be attempting to accomplish something no other team in program history has done before: Win a regional championship.
It won’t be easy, as Lincoln, playing on its own home floor, will be facing a Detroit Catholic Central team which arguably has the state’s tallest starting five in 6-8 Justin Rukat, 6-7 Ben Downs, 6-7 Davis Lukomski, 6-5 Mike Harding and 6-3 Jacob Woebkenberg.
Brandon Sinawi has done an outstanding job in his first year at Catholic Central after guiding Novi to the Class A final four at Breslin a year ago.
“I’ve been accustomed to playing a more guard-dominated offense, so with that lineup (now) and our size I’ve had to look to get the ball inside more and emphasize attacking the glass and a ‘win at the rim’ mentality,” Sinawi said. “I still brought some of the things I did at Novi, which the players had to get used to — terminology, some sets, offense and defensive schemes, and we picked things we felt our guys would benefit and could transition into compared to what we’ve done in the past. My kids have been extremely coachable.”
Sinawi said his team must "play at our pace" against Lincoln, "and keep our emotions in check and be mentally strong. There is going to be a ton of energy in the gym and a lot of eyes on the game, but if we stay composed and continue to play our style, we give ourselves a good chance.
“In terms of Emoni, we need to keep him off the offensive glass as best we can and make him uncomfortable on offense. We also need him to play on both ends. He spends a lot of energy on offense. We want to put pressure on him to have to guard, too. He’s a special player, an X factor if you will, but our team will be ready.”
Lincoln will have to do a much better job of rebounding if it has any hopes of earning that historical first regional championship, while Bates will have to be on attack mode from the start at getting to the basket as well as hitting his perimeter shots.
Lincoln battled back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to defeat Ann Arbor Skyline, 58-55, Tuesday, with Bates knocking down a 3-pointer with four seconds left for the difference. He finished with 26 points, making 7-of-14 3-pointers.
Jergens makes history, falls short of record
Marcellus Howardsville Christian senior guard Dylan Jergens became the first player since Richie Jordan of Fennville in 1965 to average 40 points a game.
Jergens was attempting to become the state’s all-time career scoring leader, but Jay Smith’s record of 2,841 (1976-79, Mio) remains as Howardsville Christian lost to Wyoming Tri-unity Christian in Tuesday’s Division 4 regional semifinal, 68-56.
Jergens finishes with 2,782 points, 971 in 24 games this season for an average of 40.4.
Jergens’ 2,782 points puts him third all-time behind Smith and Mark Brown (2,789, 1982-85, Hastings).
“We feel short; I was dealing with foul trouble all night so I didn’t play much,” said Jergens, who still finished with 27 points, six assists and three rebounds. “It’s sad to see it come to an end. They were definitely a very solid team, and really came out and played well all four quarters. They have some very solid guards.
“They tried throwing a lot of doubles at me all night and picked me up full court a lot. I felt I really played well, just had to deal with foul trouble so I was on the bench a lot when it mattered.”