EAST LANSING – The showdown between two Mr. Basketball finalists, Jack Karasinski of Grand Rapids Catholic Central and Treyvon Lewis of Ferndale, certainly didn’t disappoint – and ended in a virtual draw.
It was the supporting cast which lifted reigning Division 2 champion Grand Rapids Catholic Central back into Saturday’s title game.
The Cougars (25-1) used their relentless fast break to offset a 3-point barrage by Ferndale in an 82-71 victory in the first Division 2 Semifinal on Friday at the Breslin Center.
“Everything stems from our defense,” said ninth-year GRCC coach TJ Meerman. “When we get stops, we’ve got a lot of guys with guard skills on the floor, who have an opportunity to get out and run.”
One of those with guard skills is Karasinski, a 6-foot-6 senior who has committed to William & Mary. The versatile Karasinski finished with a game-high 34 points, including 4-of-6 shooting from 3-point range, five rebounds and three blocked shots.
That performance was nearly matched by Lewis, a 6-5 senior who is headed to Loyola of Chicago. With Loyola head coach Drew Valentine sitting courtside, Lewis scored 32 points, with four 3-pointers and seven rebounds.
The difference in the game was Ferndale’s inability to slow down the Cougars’ fast break. GRCC pushed the ball for the full 32 minutes, repeatedly beating Ferndale down the floor and leading to an 18-2 advantage in fast-break points, a 38-14 edge in points in the paint and a 48 percent shooting percentage.
Sophomore Durral Brooks had six rebounds and five steals, and after each of those, would use his speed to beat Ferndale down the court, leading to 22 points (on 8-of-12 shooting) and also a game-high eight assists.
When asked about his dynamic performance at the postgame press conference, Brooks pointed to something not even listed on the stat sheet.
“I drew three charges today,” Brooks said with a smile.
That answer was music to the ears of Meerman, who has four starters back from last year’s championship team. The Cougars have lost only one game over the past two seasons – a 75-69 defeat to Division 3 semifinalist Flint Beecher earlier this season – and captured the Ottawa-Kent Conference Gold title.
It was the second-straight Semifinal win for GRCC over Ferndale, as the Cougars won the same matchup 81-55 last year at Breslin.
But it’s clear they won’t be satisfied unless they win it all again Saturday.
“It would mean the world to me,” said Karasinski when asked about the possibility of a second consecutive championship. “Not a lot of teams have gone back-to-back, especially from West Michigan.”
GRCC led by five points after the first quarter, extended the lead to seven by halftime, then bumped it to 13 points, 55-42, entering the fourth quarter. Ferndale was never able to get the deficit down to single digits.
Kaden Brown scored seven points and had nine assists for the Cougars, while Luka Ressler and Jorden Brooks each scored seven points.
Ferndale (21-4) stayed in the game throughout thanks to its 3-point shooting.
The Eagles made almost as many 3-pointers (11) as they did 2-point field goals (12). Lewis led the way with four 3-pointers, while junior Cameron Reed made three to account for all of his nine points.
Ferndale was hurt by foul trouble for 6-2 senior guard Jason Drake Jr., a returning first-team all-stater. Drake scored 12 points with five rebounds and four assists, but played only 16 minutes due to fouls – then fouled out with 1:57 remaining in the third quarter.
“Give credit to Grand Rapids and TJ does a great job with them,” said Ferndale coach Juan Rickman, who is in his fourth year and led the Eagles to the Oakland Activities Association Red title. “But I feel bad for Jason Drake. … It was hard for us to hang with them without him on the court.
PHOTOS (Top) Grand Rapids Catholic Central’s Kaden Brown (4) walls off Ferndale’s Cameron Reed (0) during Friday’s first Division 2 Semifinal at Breslin Center. (Middle) Ferndale’s Noah Blocker (4) and Treyvon Lewis (5) and GRCC’s Nathan VanTimmeren (11) try to gather a loose ball at the backboard. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)