By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – Monte Morris returned to the Breslin Center on Thursday for the start of his fourth and final trip as a member of the Flint Beecher basketball program.
The group on the court with him was, for the most part, different than the one that last season won the MHSAA Class C championship. But the Buccaneers’ level of motivation hasn't changed a bit.
Beecher may not be seeking to end a title drought this time after last season's was its first since 1987. But Morris and another group hungry to make history pulled one more win closer to doing so with a 73-55 win over Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central.
Beecher will finish this season against Laingsburg in Saturday’s 4:30 p.m. championship game.
“Last year, any one of these guys could’ve stepped in and started like they do now. They were just getting ready,” Morris said. “They put the work in during the offseason. They just waited their turn. Now it’s their year, and they’re cherishing the moment.”
And it’s been another memorable week for the Bucs (26-1).
On Monday, the Iowa State-bound Morris was named Mr. Basketball by the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan. On Tuesday, Beecher edged Detroit Consortium 46-44 to earn its return trip to East Lansing.
Morris and his teammates were aware that his award would serve as additional motivation for the teams it would see this week. The Bucs used that as an opportunity to focus their collective mindset even more.
“We’re still hungry,” Beecher coach Mike Williams said. “We’ve got 32 minutes left, and we’re going to learn from history. We know what happened the last time Beecher was here trying to repeat. We’ve got to put in 32 minutes Saturday to bring it home.”
That season, 1988, Beecher returned to the Semifinals but lost in overtime 68-64 to eventual champion Grand Rapids South Christian.
The potential for that kind of situation faded quickly Thursday.
Just 18 seconds in, junior Emmanuel Phifer dunked two of Beecher’s eventual 23 fastbreak points. Senior Markell Lucas’ basket six minutes later gave the Bucs a lead it would not relinquish.
St. Mary senior guard Kevin Woodson scored seven points over 1:22 to help cut what grew to a 23-point lead down to 52-39 with 2:27 to play. But the Falcons (23-3) got no closer than 11 of the lead.
“It was just a great opportunity for our kids,” St. Mary coach Randy Windham said. “We’ve been knocking at the door. Two years ago we lost to Schoolcraft (in the Quarterfinal), and last year we went to the Regional and lost to River Rouge. This year, their will and character just showed. They refused to lose to Schoolcraft this time (again in a Quarterfinal).
“This is something these young men will remember the rest of their lives.”
Morris led Beecher with 29 points and eight assists, while Phifer had 14 points and senior Eric Cooper added 12.
Woodson led four Falcons in double figures with 15 points. Senior Chinedu Nwosu, junior Bradley Sherman and sophomore Bryce Windham all scored 10 points, and Nwosu and Sherman both grabbed eight rebounds.
PHOTOS: (Top) Flint Beecher's Eric Cooper (12) and Emmanuel Phifer (10) defend Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central's Bradley Sherman (40) during Thursday's Semifinal. (Middle) St. Mary's Chinedu Nwosu and Beecher's Markell Lucas go up for the opening tip. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
We've got a long way to go before the stories of this season conclude with four MHSAA boys basketball champions crowned March 15 at Michigan State University's Breslin Center.
But the first week of the 2023-24 regular season gave us plenty to fill our first installment of “Breslin Bound” – our official tip-off to following more than 700 boys basketball teams through those final buzzers in East Lansing.
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
1. Flint Carman-Ainsworth 46, Flint Beecher 44 This was their first meeting since January 2022 and it provided a memorable start as the Cavaliers downed the reigning Division 3 champion.
2. Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice 75, Ferndale 66 These two both have several new contributors, but big things will be expected again as well as Brother Rice regularly contends in Division 1 and Ferndale is the reigning Division 2 champion.
3. Lansing Waverly 58, Detroit Martin Luther King 57 Waverly took major strides last season doubling its win total from 2021-22 and could be on the verge of more coming off this impressive victory at the Detroit Douglass Tip-Off Classic.
4. Norway 49, Munising 48 After the Knights gave Munising a tough final regular-season test last season, the Mustangs went on to claim the Division 4 championship. Norway will attempt to build off back-to-back 15-7 seasons starting with this win.
5. Wyoming Tri-unity Christian 64, Grandville Calvin Christian 44 These two combined to finish 46-9 a season ago, when Calvin defeated Tri-unity 63-42 in the regular-season finale (although the Defenders rebounded to finish Division 4 runners-up).
With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each division making sparks:
Rochester Adams (2-0) The Highlanders provided one of the best late-breaking stories of last season, reaching the Division 1 Quarterfinals after finishing fourth of five teams in a strong Oakland Activities Association Red that also featured North Farmington and Ferndale. The momentum started rolling again with wins last week over Milford 52-48 and Macomb L’Anse Creuse North 74-59.
Utica (2-0) Last season’s co-champion in the Macomb Area Conference Blue defeated MAC White reigning champion Port Huron Northern 68-49 in their opener and then Utica Eisenhower 56-41 at the MAC Champions of Champions event at Center Line. Utica improved to 15-7 last season after finishing 7-14 in 2021-22.
Dundee (2-0) After holding its own last season in a strong Lenawee County Athletic Association and finishing 13-12 overall, Dundee is hoping to turn a fast start last week into a climb up the standings with league play starting Friday. The Vikings doubled up East Jackson 52-26 and downed Milan 67-37 to start things off.
Goodrich (1-0) A 22-5 finish last season included a shared championship in the Flint Metro League Stars and a run to the Division 2 Quarterfinals, where the Martians fell by only five to eventual champion Ferndale. The second-to-last of those five losses came to Flint Beecher, 70-55, but Goodrich avenged it Friday with a 58-55 win over the Bucs.
Hillsdale (2-0) The Hornets finished just 4-19 last season, their second sub-.500 in a row. But the turnaround may be starting. Hillsdale is halfway toward last year’s win total after defeating Union City 53-45 and Jonesville 50-40 – and after losing to Union City 52-36 and Jonesville 39-23 last season, with Jonesville going on to finish 19-6.
Royal Oak Shrine Catholic (2-0) This is another team well on its way to bettering last season’s success by Jan. 1. After going 3-19 last winter, Shrine defeated Bloomfield Hills Roeper 48-30 and Utica Ford 55-52 in overtime last week. Ford had defeated the Knights 63-50 last season, and the 55 points Shrine scored this time would have been their second-highest total of 2022-23.
Adrian Lenawee Christian (2-0) Lenawee Christian finished last season on an 11-5 run after a 2-7 start, and might be rolling that right into this season as well after opening with a 74-60 win over Blissfield and 73-58 overtime victory over Hanover-Horton. Blissfield was among teams to deal the Cougars a loss during last season’s tough early stretch. Lenawee Christian is playing in the Tri-County Conference this winter after playing previously as an independent.
Wakefield-Marenisco (2-0) The Cardinals were a solid 13-10 last season, with the final week including a third win over Bessemer as they faced off in a District Semifinal, followed by a third loss to Ironwood in the District championship game. This season’s first week saw the same schedule, but a better outcome – Wakefield-Marenisco edged Bessemer 60-57 and this time defeated Ironwood 48-30. Ironwood was first and W-M third last season in the Copper Mountain Conference Porcupine Mountain.
Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:
Tuesday – River Rouge (1-0) at Ferndale (1-1) – As noted above, Ferndale was last season’s Division 2 champion, and defeated Rouge 72-60 in last winter’s meeting.
Friday – Kalamazoo Central (0-0) at Battle Creek Central (0-0) – These longtime rivals finished first and third, respectively, in the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference East last season.
Saturday – Detroit Cass Tech (0-0) at Holt (1-0) – The Rams host the reigning Division 1 champion Technicians in the 4:30 p.m. game of the Moneyball Classic.
Saturday – Grand Rapids South Christian (0-0) vs. Rockford (1-0) at Calvin University – This will be the 10 a.m. opener of The Invite at Calvin University, with the reigning Division 2 runner-up Sailors taking on a Rockford team coming off an 18-win season.
Saturday – Grand Rapids Catholic Central (0-0) vs. Grand Rapids Northview (1-0) at Calvin University – This will cap off The Invite tipping approximately 7:35 p.m. and pitting last season’s Ottawa-Kent Conference Gold co-champion and White outright champion, respectively.
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PHOTOS (Top) A Westland John Glenn player gets to the basket during U-D Jesuit's season-opening 83-48 win over the Rockets. (Middle) Bath defenders surround a Charyl Stockwell player during the Sentinels' 63-55 victory. (Top photo by Olivia B. Photography; middle photo by Click by Christine McCallister.)