'Hard-working' U-D Jesuit crushes Okemos in Division 1 semifinal
East Lansing – U-D Jesuit punched its ticket to Saturday’s Division 1 state championship game with an impressive 63-25 state semifinal rout of Okemos Friday at the Breslin Center.
U-D Jesuit is headed into the title game against Ypsilanti Lincoln with a ton of momentum, averaging 71.8 points in its seven postseason games and outscoring its last three opponents by an average of 35 points.
U-D Jesuit scored the game’s first seven points and led 19-6 after the opening quarter, thanks to six points by physical 6-foot-4, 220-pound senior forward Daniel Friday and six more from senior guard Jordan Montgomery.
U-D Jesuit – 25-2 and ranked No. 3 in The Detroit News Super 20 – increased the lead to 34-13 at halftime, shooting 68.2 percent (15-of-22) while limiting Okemos (23-3) to 22.7 percent.
“Really excited about the way our guys played today,” coach Pat Donnelly said. “I thought defensively we did a phenomenal job. We came in knowing that Okemos shot the ball very well. We tried to take away the 3-point shot. I was really pleased with the effort we gave defensively without fouling.
“I just can’t say enough about this group. They are a hard-working bunch of guys who are very focused and a pleasure to coach, and we’re really excited about having the opportunity to win a championship tomorrow.”
Donnelly is also happy to have a healthy group for a change. Jalen Thomas, a 6-10 senior, missed more than a month with a broken foot early in the season and senior guard Caleb Hunter, who transferred from Southfield Christian, couldn’t play until mid-January.
Thomas, who will play next year at UMass, had a double-double (15 points, 11 rebounds), making 7-of-9 shots from the field. He was busy from the start, scoring off a jump hook in the opening minute to open things up on the perimeter, where Montgomery and Hunter knocked down 3-pointers later in the quarter.
U-D Jesuit shot 55.1 percent from the field for the game while limiting Okemos to 20.9 percent shooting, along with 3-of-14 3-pointers.
“I think our offense starts with our defense,” said Donnelly, who was thrilled to see how his team had 10 first-half assists while shooting 68.2 percent from the field. “If we play good, solid defense we can get out in transition.
“Our transition game really kind of gets us going. I thought we did a good job today of attacking the post. Daniel and Jalen both did a nice job scoring and J.T. Morgan had a nice post move, and when we’re balanced offensively, when we can get out in transition, score in the post and knock down some 3s – Jordan shot it particularly well from 3 today – it’s a pleasure to watch them offensively.”
Montgomery finished with 17 points, making 6-of-7 shots from the field, including 4-of-5 3-pointers. Friday, who will play at Brown, scored 10 on 5-of-6 shooting.
“I wanted to get off to a quick start,” Montgomery said. “I was mainly focused on playing defense, playing for my teammates, keeping the energy up.”
U-D Jesuit opened a 47-19 lead with a minute left in the third on Montgomery’s consecutive 3-pointers.
“It was just an energy booster for us,” Montgomery said. “My teammates found me and I just had open shots.”
Thomas was a part of U-D Jesuit’s Class A state championship team his freshman year in 2016. Senior point guard Julian Dozier was also on that team but didn’t play in the Final Four due to an injury.
Thomas said U-D Jesuit will be up for the challenge of facing Bates and Lincoln for the title.
“We know they’re a pretty good team, they have the No. 1 freshman in the country in Emoni and a couple of good role players as well, so we just have to try to play as good of defense as we did the last few games and try to get the win,” said Thomas.
Evan Thomas, a 6-4 senior guard who averaged 23 points and 10 rebounds, was limited to 13 points and six rebounds for Okemos, making 4-of-13 shots.
Ypsilanti Lincoln 72, Howell 56
U-D Jesuit 63, Okemos 25
Final: Saturday, 12:15 p.m.