Detroit — A near packed house of 8,000 showed up Tuesday evening for the Division 1 state quarterfinal game between Ypsilanti Lincoln and Detroit King.
Sure, thousands came to Calihan Hall to watch Lincoln 6-foot-8 freshman phenom Emoni Bates play. And Bates did score a game-high 17 and had 10 rebounds to lead Lincoln to a 56-52 victory.
But King made it tough on Bates — the top player in the nation for the 2022 class — who had to work for every one of his points, making 7-of-24 shots with more than a dozen misses inside, circling around the rim and bouncing out.
Senior guard Jalen Fisher scored 13 for Lincoln, including 10 (4-of-6) in the first half when Bates was limited to eight on 3-of-12 shooting, helping Lincoln take a 23-22 lead at the break.
The game was close throughout with King’s largest lead at six (17-11) and Lincoln’s nine (38-29).
Lincoln carried a 42-37 lead into the fourth quarter, but King (20-5) went on an 11-5 run to take a 48-47 lead with five minutes to go with King forward John Massey Jr. (15 points) scoring off a putback and then a dunk in transition to close the run.
Lincoln answered King’s run with one of its own with 6-4 senior Amari Frye scoring off a putback, then having senior point guard Tahj Chatman take over, making both ends of a 1-and-1, then finding Trevon Davis for an inside shot and finally making two more free throws for a 55-50 lead with 50.4 seconds left.
Lincoln made 12-of-13 free throws, including 6-of-7 during the final six minutes.
“For the first time, it’s crazy, just an amazing opportunity, a blessing from God,” said Chatman of Lincoln — 21-4 and ranked No. 17 in The News Super 20 — advancing to the state semifinals to play the Saginaw-Howell winner Friday at noon at the Breslin Center. “It was a tough win, but we knew if we’d win we’d get to Breslin so it was great motivation. They slowed it (pace) down, but we fought through it.
“Defensively, we just wanted to play them solid. We were forcing them to reject the screen and sending them to our teammates weak side on everything, and I felt we switched up defenses with different presses and zones and that threw them off a bit.”
All season, Lincoln coach Jesse Davis talked about how his team had a strong supporting cast in Frye, Chatman, Fisher and 5-11 senior guard Trevon Davis surrounding Bates, a reason it won its first regional in school history.
Bates — averaging 29.2 points and 10.1 rebounds — was heroic in last week’s regional at Lincoln, scoring 26 and making 7-of-14 3-pointers in a 58-55 regional semifinal win over Ann Arbor Skyline, then scoring 36, including a tip in as time expired for the difference in an 81-79 regional title win over Detroit Catholic Central.
But, on Tuesday night with a trip to the Breslin Center on the line, it was the supporting cast of the supporting cast that proved to be the difference.
With Bates struggling to finish around the basket, Davis getting poked in the eye while going for a rebound in the opening minute and Chatman and Frye picking up two fouls in the opening quarter, it was senior guard Cameron Johnson, junior guard Davion Harlon, and sophomore guard Gabe Damey, who all came off the bench and made major contributions.
Johnson (eight points, including two 3-pointers), Harlon (four points, 2-of-2 shooting), and Damey (two points) combined for 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting.
“I always try to stay ready on the bench, have to stay ready and knock down shots once I get in,” Johnson said. “On defense, I had to battle the bigs down there because we have all the guards, just tried to play as hard as I could.
“We have a great player in Emoni, but we have a lot of depth and we know we can play with any team if we play together. We can beat anyone.”
Said Chatman: “They (Harlon, Damey, Johnson) work extremely hard in practice and Coach (Davis) tells us to be ready when your number’s called and that’s exactly what they did tonight and I’m grateful and very appreciative for them stepping up.”
Bates got off to a rough start, missing five of six shots in the opening quarter and then two more early in the second quarter before helping his team end the half with a 12-5 run, scoring six, to take a 23-22 halftime lead.
Johnson made an impact early after starter Trevon Davis left in the opening minute with an eye injury. Davis was smacked on the forehead and lost a contact on the play, but was handed another pair of contacts from a fan in Lincoln’s student section at halftime, returning to play valuable minutes in the second half.
Johnson made a 3-pointer to get Lincoln on the board, cutting the deficit to 4-3.
King led 15-11 after one when senior point guard Jordan Whitford (13 points) made a free-throw line jumper, then after Bates tipped in his own miss, knocked down a 30-footer at the buzzer.
King extended the lead to 17-11 on Massey’s dunk off a Whitford miss before Johnson made a steal to let it known Lincoln was going to make it tough on King at the defensive end the rest of the quarter.
Lincoln forced six turnovers during the second quarter, including Damey taking a charge on Chancey Willis for his third foul and Harlon getting a steal.
Senior forward Rayshawn Cowan scored 10 for King, joining Massey and Whitford in double figures, but in the end Lincoln’s bench was the difference, outscoring King’s bench by a 14-6 margin.