East Lansing — Ypsilanti Lincoln pulled off a shocking upset of U-D Jesuit in the Division 1 championship game Saturday afternoon at Breslin Center when senior guard Jalen Fisher — all 5-foot-10 of him — grabbed a rebound and made a 15-foot jumper from the right baseline for a 64-62 victory.
The odds were stacked against Lincoln, which trailed 60-51 with five minutes left, but it had been in situations like this before during the postseason.
In fact, it was Lincoln’s third buzzer-beating comeback win in the last two weeks, starting when Lincoln battled back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to earn a 58-55 regional semifinal win over Ann Arbor Skyline on 6-foot-8 freshman phenom Emoni Bates’ 3-pointer with four seconds left.
“I talked to my kids about living in the moment,” Lincoln coach Jesse Davis said following the game. “You know, this was a moment for us that nobody seen coming but us. I just think it’s great to have some kids that you have taken, starting with them when they were freshmen, Amari (Frye), Tahj (Chatman), then Jalen came (from Memphis) when he was a junior.
“I’ve been instilling championship mentality in Tahj and Amari for four years and then we added someone like Jalen, who has exceptional speed, toughness and just a will to win. And, then we add somebody like Emoni Bates, who can carry us through tough things, make big shots and do everything that the other guys couldn’t do, and it just came out to be so beautiful."
Lincoln was basically a .500 team (11-10) a year ago, then Bates — considered the top player in the country for the 2022 class — came on board and helped Lincoln win its first league title in 15 years, then its first regional title ever before concluding its magical run this week.
U-D Jesuit (25-3) entered the season as The Detroit News’ No. 1 team and for good reason since it was strong at every position, including a veteran point guard in Julian Dozier, a force inside in 6-10 Jalen Thomas and physical 6-4, 220-pound Daniel Friday, all holding Division I offers with Thomas headed for UMass and Friday to Brown.
And, while Lincoln — 23-4 and ranked No. 17 — was simply surviving and advancing during the postseason, U-D Jesuit had been averaging 71.8 points in its seven postseason games, outscoring its previous three opponents by an average of 35 points. U-D Jesuit jumped out to a 9-0 lead in its 91-54 quarterfinal rout of Roseville Tuesday and a 7-0 lead in its 63-25 semifinal win over Okemos Friday.
Fans will be talking about this championship game upset for decades to come, about how the tough battles made Lincoln physically and mentally tough for this one in crunch time while maybe U-D Jesuit didn’t know how to react.
After all, U-D Jesuit turned the ball over four times in the fourth quarter, missed two inside shots and the front end of a 1-and-1 free-throw situation.
“First of all, I want to congratulate Ypsilanti Lincoln for a tremendously hard-fought victory,” said U-D Jesuit coach Pat Donnelly, who was trying to guide his team to its second state title in four years, having won the Class A championship in 2016 with Cassius Winston leading the way. “They are a good team. Coming into this game we heard all the stuff about, ‘You have to stop Emoni. You have to stop Emoni.’ We were a lot more concerned with more than Emoni. They’ve got some good players out there. Their guys handled the ball well. Frye hit some shots. Fisher hit some shots, obviously the game-winner. I thought we did a good job on Emoni, making him work for his points. We knew he was going to score.
“If you look at the stats it’s kind of hard to believe. I thought we shot the ball well. Turnovers are going to be something that we’re going to talk about. Thirteen turnovers hurt us, and I think we had some good opportunities at the rim in the last few minutes of the game that we just didn’t convert that normally we do.”
Friday did a solid job defensively on Bates, who finished with a game-high 23 points on 7-of-22 shooting. Bates made 8-of-8 free throws and Lincoln converted all 11 of its free throws. Fisher scored 16, making 7-of-11 shots, including 2-of-3 3-pointers, while Frye added 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting, 2-for-5 from 3-point range.
Donnelly had to be thrilled with his team’s shooting. U-D Jesuit shot 53.2 percent on 25-of-47 with Friday scoring 19 (7-of-11 shooting) and Dozier 17 (7-of-12 shooting).
U-D Jesuit made 9-of-12 free throws, but missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 4:17 remaining while leading 60-54, and then Lincoln senior point guard Tahj Chatman and Bates each made two free throws to cut the deficit to 60-58 with 3:55 left.
Lincoln put on full-court pressure, forcing U-D Jesuit to call a timeout, then Thomas missed an inside shot, and Bates took advantage by connecting on a 17-foot fallaway jumper to tie the score at 60, followed by a missed inside shot by U-D Jesuit junior J.T. Morgan.
Frye gave Lincoln a 62-60 lead when he scored off a putback with 1:40 left, but Dozier answered with an inside basket to pull U-D Jesuit even at 62 and set up the frantic final minute.
Lincoln had the ball with more than a minute left and played for the last shot, almost turning it over when Cam Johnson grabbed the loose ball and called timeout.
Lincoln called yet another timeout with 13.7 seconds left, inbounded the ball to Bates, who was double-teamed, then found Frye, who let go of a 3-pointer from the top of the key that bounced off the rim. Fisher grabbed the rebound and became a hero.
“We almost got the turnover,” Donnelly said. “We wanted to get the ball out of his (Bates) hands so we trapped him. I thought we did a pretty decent job, forced a 25-footer (by Frye), but didn’t secure the rebound and they (Fisher) hit the winner and that’s heartbreaking.”
Davis said he took Fisher out of the semifinal game — Lincoln’s 72-56 win over Howell — for pouting because he wasn’t getting the ball enough.
“I took him out of the game in the semis because he was pouting a little bit at the end of the game because he wasn’t getting the ball like he wanted to,” Davis said. “He’s a shooter and shooters like to shoot. They want to touch the ball and handle it and all that stuff, but we have a lot of guys who can do that, so at the beginning of this game I told him to be patient, that his time was coming. During timeouts, I said ‘Jalen, be patient, your time is coming.'” I didn’t know that it was going to come like that, but I’m glad it happened to him because I believed in him the whole time.”
So, what did Fisher see on that last play?
“Amari came off at the top of the key and I thought it (Frye’s shot) was good and it hit the top of the rim and came in my hands and I just shot it and it was good,” Fisher said. “I just shot it and it went in and I just saw black. I saw people on top of me.”
Lincoln led 15-14 after one and U-D Jesuit used a 20-8 second-quarter to take a 34-23 halftime lead behind the play of its senior backcourt in Dozier and Jordan Montgomery, who finished with nine points (3-of-4 3-pointers).
Lincoln came back in the third quarter to pull even at 47 with 35.3 seconds left on two free throws from Bates before U-D Jesuit ended the quarter on a 4-0 run, capped by a Friday dunk off a turnover.
“It was a little disheartening that we had that 11-point lead at halftime and let them back in during the third quarter with some turnovers and a little lackadaisical defense, but it’s one thing that this team has done all year, they continue to fight and they never think they are out of a game,” Donnelly said. “We kind of wanted to put us on Daniel’s back a little bit, put the ball in the post because he’s so strong inside and can finish in there. He’s done a great job for us all year, just sorry that his high school career ended this way.”
U-D Jesuit extended the lead to 58-49 on a driving layup by Dozier and, after Fisher’s steal and layup, continued to hold the nine-point cushion (60-51) with Dozier’s two free throws with five minutes left.
When asked how Lincoln was able to come back, Davis replied: “We don’t really try to change anything, just try to be the best at what we do. Basketball is a game of runs and we’re like them (U-D Jesuit) where we score points in bunches. I just told the guys to keep applying pressure at both ends and shots will go down for us. We didn’t stop. We kept fighting.”
And, that’s what Davis loves, in Bates who doesn’t get frustrated by missed shots, just focuses on the next play.
“That’s all I expect him to do, all I expect him to do,” Davis said of Bates, who averaged 29 points and nearly 10 rebounds this season. “Emoni is mean, he’s relentless, he’s tough. Every now and then he goes a little overboard, but I’m like that where I go overboard sometimes and I expect the best from you and I expect the fight in you and I expect that out of him. He’s given that to the guys all year long.
“He challenges guys to get better. He wants the best for himself and he wants the best for them, too. I don’t know if they really look at it like that, but he tries to bring the best out of his teammates and that’s what he’s brought to our team, just the mentality of a champion.”
Said Bates said of Lincoln’s postseason run: “I told my teammates that we were going to be here. I told them we have to trust each other and we’re going to win the state championship and look what happened.”