Jalen Fisher made the biggest shot of his basketball career on the big stage Saturday.
The Ypsilanti Lincoln senior guard grabbed a rebound off a missed 3-point attempt by Amari Frye and made a 15-footer as time expired, giving Lincoln a wild 64-62 upset victory over U-D Jesuit in the Division 1 state championship game.
And that wasn’t the only big moment Fisher had in the championship game before 7,738 at the Breslin Center.
While the talk of the title game was, for good reason, on Lincoln 6-8 freshman phenom Emoni Bates, Fisher was a factor on both ends of the court.
Fisher’s assignment was to try to slow down U-D Jesuit standout point guard Julian Dozier, who has multiple mid-major offers, including Oakland, Eastern Michigan and Western Kentucky.
Fisher matched Dozier’s speed and talent to somewhat neutralize Dozier, who has 18 points and six assists.
Fisher scored 16, making 7-of-11 shots, including 2-of-3 3-pointers while making two steals and helping to force three third-quarter turnovers, then four more in the fourth to put Lincoln (23-4) in position to claim its first state championship.
“Before the game my coaches were talking about how he’s exactly like me – quick, fast and looking to get his teammates open,” Fisher said of defending Dozier. “The whole time I was guarding him he was real shifty. So I was trying to make it hard for him to score, but he was getting off the screens a little too easy. In the third quarter I don’t think he scored at all.”
Dozier scored 12 first-half points and helped U-D Jesuit take momentum into the locker room with its largest lead (34-23) with a toss to Daniel Friday, who flipped the ball into the basket before the buzzer.
But Fisher’s effort helped bring Lincoln back, starting by knocking down a 3-pointer from the left corner to cut the deficit to 34-26, then getting a steal leading to a transition basket by senior guard Tajh Chatman to pull within 34-28. He muscled inside for another basket (36-30) and finally got a transition basket following a Bates block on Dozier to pull his team even at 45, ending a 22-11 run.
Lincoln shot 81.8 percent from the field (9-of-11) during the third quarter while holding Dozier scoreless.
And while Dozier did score six in the final quarter, Fisher made some big plays of his own – and he needed to with U-D Jesuit (25-3) building a 58-49 lead with six minutes left.
Fisher started a game-ending 15-4 run with a layup off a steal and ended it with his dramatic 15-foot jumper from the right baseline.
It was Lincoln’s third buzzer-beating win in the last two weeks, the last coming against a U-D Jesuit team that defeated its previous three opponents by an average of 35 points.
“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,” said Fisher of his game winner.
Said Lincoln head coach Jesse Davis: “I took him (Fisher) 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. He’s a shooter and shooters like to shoot. I told him to be patient, that his time was 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. It was great to see them win it in that fashion.”
Bates lives up to hype
It has to be tough for a 15-year-old to live with the hype of being ranked the top player in the country for your class.
But Bates lived up to that label in leading Lincoln to its first state championship in school history.
“I just told my teammates before I even got there (to Lincoln) that we were going to be here (Breslin),” said Bates following the title game win. “I told them we have to trust each other and we’re going to win the state championship, and look what happened.”
Bates averaged 30 points and 10.3 rebounds during the regular season while helping Lincoln win its first league (SEC White Division) title in 15 years. He followed that up by averaging 24.7 points and 10.4 rebounds during the seven postseason games, helping Lincoln either earn comeback wins – regional semifinal against Ann Arbor Skyline, regional final against Detroit Catholic Central, state quarterfinal against Detroit King and title game against U-D Jesuit – or close out games where it held small fourth-quarter leads, in two districts wins.
Having the experience of pulling out close games played a factor with the state championship on the line.
Instead of getting intimidated when he got a shot blocked by the physical Friday in the opening minutes of the title game, Bates just went on attack mode.
“I was getting to my spots, my shot just wasn’t falling,” said Bates, who made 7-of-22 shots from the field, 1-of-7 3-pointers.
When Bates was asked what’s next for him, he said: “I got three more (state titles) to win.”
Humphrey, Sanders step up
Da’Jion Humphrey and Jon Sanders joined Bryce Washington, Harlond Beverly and Caleb Hunter as starters on last year’s Class D state championship team for Southfield Christian.
With Washington moving on to start at Penn and the backcourt of Beverly (Montverde, Florida) and Hunter (U-D Jesuit) transferring, Humphrey and Sanders knew they were going to be the go-to players this time around.
Things didn’t go well for Southfield Christian at the start of the season when it dropped its first three games and five of its first seven before a winning eight straight, including a 61-53 win at Detroit Country Day Jan. 11.
Humphrey scored 16 in a 55-28 semifinal win over Dollar Bay, then tossed in 20 in the 63-39 Division 4 championship game rout of Frankfort Saturday. Sanders contributed 19, including nine during a 13-0 run to turn a 2-0 deficit into a 13-2 lead.
“I thought it was a great challenge and a great opportunity for them,” said Southfield Coach Josh Baker of Humphrey and Sanders.
Said Sanders: “It was harder than we’ve ever worked to get back to this point. Our roles were 10 times bigger so we just worked hard and stepped into the roles.”
“This is sweet,” said Humphrey. “We worked hard, put in countless hours and as you can see it pays off.”
Baker felt his team was in the crossroads after the 2-5 start.
“As a team we just collectively decided we were going to put in more work, we were going to put in more effort,” Baker said. “I felt the turning point was when we won at Country Day.”
The win at Country Day put Southfield Christian’s record at 4-5, but more importantly gave it confidence for the rest of the season.
Now, Southfield Christian (21-6) has won two straight state championships and five in the last eight years under Baker.
And while Sanders will graduate, Humphrey will return, along with other starters in Noah Rheker and defensive stopper Rahmon Scruggs.
No 15th banner for River Rouge
River Rouge won its Division 2 state semifinal game Friday when Nigel Colvin forced overtime with a 3-pointer as time expired in regulation, then went on to defeat Harper Woods Chandler Park 72-66.
But River Rouge’s magic didn’t continue Saturday night when it battled back from a nine-point fourth-quarter deficit to make it a one possession game before Colvin missed a 3-pointer, which would have tied the game in the final seconds, resulting in Hudsonville Unity Christian’s first state championship, 58-55.
“We talked all week, all year about how River Rouge basketball is based on state championships,” said Lamonta Stone, who guided River Rouge to consecutive Class B state championships in 1998 and 1999, then led it to its first state title game appearance in 20 years. “There’s banners in our gymnasium, 14 state championship banners. Coach (Lofton) Greene has a number of runner-up teams and he didn’t place those banners in the gymnasium so I’m not going to place them there.
“That’s my mentor, that’s the guy I played for, and everything I know about basketball is based on Coach Greene. If he’s not satisfied with runner-ups than neither can I be.”