Ypsilanti — The Emoni Bates hype — legend really — continues to grow with each game and Thursday’s night’s Division 1 regional final had the stands packed more than a half hour before tip-off at Lincoln High School with hundreds of more fans still waiting and hoping to get in, but ultimately getting turned away.
In fact, Lincoln athletic director Chris Westfall said approximately 1,000 fans were turned away.
Bates continued his week of heroics to lead Lincoln — 20-4 and ranked No. 17 in the state by The Detroit News — to its first regional title, tipping in a missed Tahj Chatman short jumper as time expired for a 81-79 victory over Detroit Catholic Central (17-7).
Bates, a 6-foot-8 freshman and top-ranked player in the nation for the 2022 class, made a 3-pointer for the difference in Ypsilanti Lincoln’s 58-55 regional semifinal win over Ann Arbor Skyline two nights earlier.
Lincoln will play Detroit King in a state quarterfinal Tuesday night at Calihan Hall.
Bates, who played with four fouls during the final 3:45, finished with 36 points on 14-of-28 shooting. In the regional semifinal victory, he made 7-of-14 3-pointers, but in the championship game against arguably the state’s tallest starting lineup — measuring 6-8, 6-7, 6-7, 6-5 and 6-3 — he was in attack mode all game.
Bates had plenty of help from his teammates, including 20 from 6-4 senior guard Amari Frye, 14 points from senior guard Jalen Fisher, and Chatman’s five points, including a 3-pointer from the left corner with 40 seconds left to pull Lincoln even at 79.
The big questions coming in was how would Lincoln do rebounding, keeping Catholic Central off the offensive glass?
And how would Catholic Central do against Lincoln’s pressure defense and halfcourt trap?
Lincoln did a much better job of rebounding in the second half, allowing just nine second-chance points after giving up 16 in the opening half when Catholic Central held a 40-38 lead.
Catholic Central struggled against Lincoln’s defense with the game on the line, turning the ball over twice in the final 2 1/2 minutes, including one with the trap, forcing Catholic Central into an over-and-back violation with 11.6 seconds left.
Then, Lincoln had the ball and that’s when Catholic Central's Brendan Downs took Bates away from the play and Chatman took the ball to the basket, missing a short jumper, but watching Bates follow it with the tip.
“I just knew I had to follow the shot, got the tip and it felt great,” Bates said. “I’m just blessed. We just continued to fight and stayed as a family. This (regional title) means a lot.”
Chatman talked about his 3-pointer to pull Lincoln even, and about Lincoln’s defense down the stretch.
“My shot wasn’t going a lot, but my coaches and teammates believed in me to take that shot and it all came together at the right time,” Chatman said. “In practice we work on situations like this, work on defense all the time. I don’t really know what to say right now, just always fight, just always fight.”
And, on Bates’ heroics?
“Emoni was born to do this,” Chatman said. “In big moments like this he steps up. It’s just a blessing to have him on our team. He’s really changed the culture around here for real. He made a great shot (tip).”
Catholic Central coach Brandon Sinawi didn’t want to get into a fast-paced game with Lincoln, but that’s how it started with Lincoln leading 23-21 after the first quarter.
Catholic Central used a 10-0 run to turn a 27-23 deficit into a 33-27 lead in the second quarter, getting putbacks, scoring in transition off turnovers and taking points away from Lincoln when 6-7 senior Davis Lukomski took a charge to wipe away a basket by Frye.
Catholic Central led 40-38 at halftime, then the third quarter saw 10 lead changes with Lincoln carrying a 63-62 lead into the fourth quarter on Fisher’s 3-pointer in transition off a Catholic Central turnover.
The fourth quarter had nine more lead changes and Catholic Central held a 79-76 lead with 50 seconds left on Mike Harding’s inside shot.
But Chatman’s 3-pointer kept Lincoln alive, and then Catholic Central had the turnover that led to Bates’ putback. Lincoln made 9-of-24 3-pointers, 5-of-10 during the second half.
“That’s one of the greatest games I’ve ever been a part of, rather I’ve watched or coached, just a spectacular game,” Sinawi said. “We had a high screen and roll set up for Davis (Lukomski on the final possession) and he got himself in a little bit of trouble and credit their guards for making a good play, went over-and-back by three or four inches.
“We had run the high screen and roll three times already and scored each time. Our instructions was to get to the basket every single time we could, especially with Emoni having four fouls, but we never got to the rim.”
Catholic Central's Justin Rukat, a 6-8 senior, scored 27, including 10 in the third quarter. He made 10-of-13 shots. Lukomski, a 6-7 senior, had 19 on 8-of-14 shooting; 6-7 Downs 13 points and guard Jacob Woebkenberg 10 points as Catholic Central shot 58 percent from the field.
More boys basketball
Okemos 39, DeWitt 34: Noah Pruitt scored 14 and Evan Thomas 10 for Okemos (22-2). Mason Gilbert scored 13 and Nate Flannery 12 for DeWitt (20-4).
Harper Woods Chandler Park 89, Ferndale 40: Tyland Tate had 30 points and six rebounds, Derrick Bryant 17 points and five assists and Andre Bradford 15 points for Chandler Park (21-0). Ferndale is 16-9.
New Haven 55, Pontiac 38: Ronald Jeffery had 19 points and seven rebounds, and Romeo Weems had 13 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists, seven blocks and four steals for New Haven (24-1). D’Quarion Cole scored 16 for Pontiac (22-3).
River Rouge 70, Dearborn Divine Child 43: Nigel Colvin had 15 points, and Bralin Toney, Micah Parrish and Donovan Freeman scored 10 each for River Rouge (21-2), which won its fourth straight regional title. Parker LePage scored 16 and Cameron Urbanick 13 for Divine Child (19-5).
MediaNews Group contributed.