King beats Pershing, wins first PSL championship in nine years

Kameron Goodwill
Special to The Detroit News

Detroit — Supported by a strong defensive effort, Detroit Martin Luther King defeated Detroit Pershing Saturday 56-48, winning the Detroit Public School League championship for the first time since 2012.

King hadn’t won a PSL championship since defeating Pershing in 2012, and last appeared in a championship game in 2017, when it lost to Cass Tech. Pershing last won the championship in 2014 and made its last appearance in 2018, losing to Detroit Edison.

The Detroit King boys basketball team members celebrate their 56-48 win over Pershing in the boys PSL basketball final Saturday, March 20, 2021, at Renaissance High School in Detroit.

Cass Tech, the defending PSL champions and winners of three of the last four title games, did not participate in the tournament due to COVID-19.

Detroit King coach George Ward said he was proud of his team, and talked about how they performed all season with high expectations.

“To know where these young men have come from, to know they weren’t the best basketball team, the best players coming into high school … to go undefeated in the Public School League, with a target on their back all season, it’s a special feeling, I’m just proud of them,” Ward said

Both teams had trouble making shots in the first quarter, as each team decided to attack the rim and had little success.

Chansey Willis had a big first quarter for King, scoring nine of their 12 first-quarter points to help his team hold a one-point lead.

Pershing had a nightmare of a second quarter, dealing with a seven-minute scoring drought and only one made field goal in the entire quarter, and going three from six at the free-throw line.

King capped off the second quarter run in a big way, as Davin Walker banked in a long 3-pointer to give King a 30-16 lead heading to halftime, posing a few feet from the 3-point line and celebrating with a teammate. Walker scored nine of his 16 points in that quarter.

Pershing’s free-throw woes were so obvious that head coach Shawn Hill had his team practice them while warming up for the second half.

Pershing came back strong in the third, as Tharren “Squally” Hall had 10 of Pershing’s 17 points in the quarter, and it trailed 37-31 as King called a timeout with 51 seconds remaining. Ward gathered his team and had a simple message.

“Just settle down,” Ward said. “We got a little anxious, and I understand, we wanted to have a knockout punch so to speak, so for me, I knew how imperative it was to just get back and settle down and do what it took to get the lead in the first place.”

Holding a 39-33 lead entering the fourth, it was Shannen Carter who stepped up for King in the fourth, scoring six points with three big blocks, one coming on a 3-point attempt from Pershing that was followed by another block from Omar Ziegler in a defensive sequence that showcased King’s efforts all game.

Pershing was unable to regain the momentum it had in the third for another run. The teams did exchange free-throw attempts in the last minute, but Pershing never cut the lead to less than eight.

Ward became the fourth head coach to win a PSL championship coaching two different teams; he won in 2011 while coaching Southeastern.

Ziegler had nine points for King. Hall scored 15, and Brian Woodland and Andrew Fuquay each had eight for Pershing.

Kameron Goodwill is a freelance writer.