EAST LANSING – It’s been 82 years since Williamston won a boys basketball state championship.
Now the Hornets are one win away from ending that drought and seemingly the entire town, located only about 10 miles away from East Lansing, packed the Breslin Center on Friday to watch its own version of “Hoosiers” take another step.
Williamston (26-0) used its variety of weapons to jump ahead of Freeland early in a battle of unbeatens, then gradually pulled away for a 65-45 victory in the night’s second Division 2 Semifinal.
“It feels like we have the whole city with us, pushing us,” said 6-foot-4 Williamston senior Jacob Wallace, who scored 12 points. “I’m playing not only for my coaches and teammates, but the whole community.”
The Hornets will need all hands on deck in Saturday’s highly-anticipated showdown with reigning Division 2 champion Grand Rapids Catholic Central, an explosive team which downed Ferndale, 82-71, in Friday’s first Division 2 Semifinal.
Williamston, an experienced team with 10 seniors, had to avoid looking past a pesky Freeland team.
The Hornets took control early behind the play of senior point guard Mason Docks and 6-10 senior post player Max Burton.
Docks was a thorn in Freeland’s side all night long, leading Williamston with 19 points, five steals and four assists. Burton set the tone early inside and finished with nine points, six rebounds and three assists.
Williamston, which won the Capital Area Activities Conference White title, has played its best basketball in the postseason – winning its six tournament games by an average of 26 points.
“I would say the main feeling I have right now is excitement,” said Docks. “We’ve been preparing all season for this moment. Now it’s time to go out and have some fun and play our game.”
Tight defense and good execution on offense were the formula once again, as the Hornets built a 14-7 lead after one quarter and then extended it to 31-18 by halftime.
After Williamston built the lead to 19 points, Freeland showed why it came into Friday’s Semifinal undefeated as well, using an 8-2 run to end the third quarter trailing by just 12 points.
However, a 12-4 Hornets spurt to open the fourth quarter built the lead back to 20 points, 60-40, and they cruised from there.
Jackson Newman played a strong all-around game for Williamston with nine points, five rebounds and two steals. The Hornets finished with a commanding 42-20 advantage in points in the paint.
Freeland (25-1), which won its first Regional championship since 1971 and made its first-ever trip to the Semifinals, was paced by senior Bryson Huckeby’s 19 points and seven rebounds.
“Coach (John Fattal) has been telling us all year, like when we were 10-0 and kept winning, that we hadn’t arrived yet,” said Huckeby. “Well, when I stepped out on this court and saw all of those people there to support us, I knew we had arrived. That atmosphere tonight is something that I will never forget.”
Jacob Kundinger scored 10 points for the Falcons, and center Alex Duley contributed five points, four assists and three steals.
The stage is now set for an epic Division 2 Final game which will be a contrast in styles. Williamston likes to play a more controlled game and has won all 26 with precision half-court execution, while GRCC never stops running.
“We’ve prided ourselves on defense all year, but tomorrow night will be our greatest challenge by far in that department,” said sixth-year Williamston coach Tom Lewis. “We have to get back in transition because they just go, go, go. We have to limit their runs.”
PHOTOS (Top) Williamston's Max Burton extends his reach as Freeland's Alex Duley (24) attempts to direct a shot around him. (Middle) The Hornets' Mason Docks gets to the basket Friday. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)