Beecher Survives on Last-Second Shot

March 24, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – There wasn’t much for Flint Beecher coach Mike Williams to enjoy as he watched Detroit Loyola shred his team’s 15-point lead over the final 14 minutes of Thursday's Class C Semifinal.

But there was one thing he could applaud; his players stayed up when another team, a much less accomplished or experienced team, might have lost its edge.

Junior Malik Ellison believed the reigning MHSAA champ would still end up advancing to Saturday. And he backed it up with the season on the line.

With the Bucs trailing by two points and five seconds to play, Ellison took a handoff from a teammate of an inbounds pass, and with no way to get to the basket, drilled a 3-pointer from five feet behind the arc to give Beecher a 60-59 win as the final second ticked off the clock.

“In practice we run that play all the time,” said Ellison, who also started on last season’s championship team. “(Coach) gives us a situation, like we’re down two and we’ve got to get a bucket. At first on my pump fake, I was like, should I pass? Then I saw (the defender) jump, got a little angle with my arm, and knew it was going in. I felt it.

“Every day I go in the gym, either the Y or I stay after practice, and it’s shots like that just for times like this. I just pulled it through today.”

Beecher (24-2), ranked No. 2 heading into the postseason, will take on Grandville Calvin Christian in Saturday’s Final at 4:30 p.m.

But the Bucs’ attempt to win a fourth Class C title in five seasons looked to be done when Loyola added the final two points of a 24-8 run on sophomore Pierre Mitchell’s two free throws with 47 seconds remaining. 

They made the score 59-55 in the Bulldogs’ favor, and junior Jordan Roland’s bucket with 26 seconds left drew Beecher to only within two. Loyola then missed a pair of free throws with 12 seconds to play, but on the ensuing possession managed to deflect Beecher’s first pass after reaching midcourt out of bounds – setting up the dramatic final five seconds.

After receiving the handoff from senior Aquavius Burks on the wing to the left of the basket, Ellison took one dribble left before jutting back right – he had to a shoot a 3-pointer, as Mitchell gave him no opening to the basket and time was nearly gone. Tilted a bit to the right, Ellison floated a shot that dropped as the clock expired.

“What can I say? Wow. What an incredible ending,” Williams said. “I thought we got a little complacent once we got the lead, and that’s the first time we’ve turned the ball over as many times (18) as we did all year. 

“But one thing about this team and what it’s shown all season, is resiliency, poise and composure in the face of elimination. … I wasn’t proud that we gave up the lead, but after we gave up the lead it was all positive in the huddle. (And) Malik said, ‘We’ve got this.’”

Beecher had trailed Flint Hamady by five points with 40 seconds to play in the District opener before winning 68-62. The Bucs then trailed Southfield Christian by 13 points with nine minutes to play in the Regional Final before coming back for a 78-65 victory.

So trailing late wasn’t new, and neither was the atmosphere at Breslin Center, Beecher’s late-season home most of this decade.

“It helps with the coaching staff, and it helps with the players,” Williams said. “I remember coming here back in 2003, and one of the first things I noticed is the ball bounced a little different on this floor. The atmosphere is a little different than playing in a gym. When you come down here for the first time … you noticed in the first half that Loyola had a hard time adjusting to shooting the basketball. They were shooting the basketball a whole lot better once they got adjusted to the depth perception.”

In fact, Loyola did shoot 29 percent from the floor during the first half and 42 percent during the second, while Beecher was more consistent and finished at 48 percent for the game.

Bulldogs senior Ernest Adams and sophomore Keith Johnson especially found their shots over the comeback run, Adams making all three of his 3-pointers and scoring 11 of his team-high 15 points during the stretch and Johnson making both of his 3-pointers over the final 4:10.

“The bigger thing is what has happened all year for us; these guys played for each other,” Loyola coach John Buscemi said. “Once a few (shots) went, everyone got energized – the guys in the game, the guys on the bench. We love each other, we’re a family, and we just feed off of that. And I think we did tonight."

Adams also had 10 rebounds for Loyola (21-6) and Johnson finished with 10 points. Senior Romari Ennis had 12 points.

Burks had a game-high 22 points for Beecher making 6 of 7 shots from the floor and all seven of his free throws. Ellison had 11 points and senior Jamari Thomas-Newell had 12 points.

Click for the full box score.

The Boys Basketball Finals are presented by Sparrow Health System. 

PHOTO: Beecher players embrace Malik Ellison after his game-winning shot Thursday. (Middle) Loyola’s Pierre Mitchell works to get a shot up while surrounded by Beecher defenders.

Little Provides Major Stride as 1st Woman to Officiate Boys Hoops Final since 1995

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

April 13, 2023

Delonda Little was already a trailblazer to many before this year’s MHSAA Boys Basketball Finals.

Greater DetroitBut what happened last month at Breslin Center made her even more of one on a statewide level.

A referee and assigner for 20 years in the Detroit area, Little is a female boys and girls basketball official who mentors both male and female referees – no matter the gender or level, as she officiates high school and college games.

Officials often go to Little for guidance, direction and assignments, which has made her respected for years throughout Metro Detroit in the prep basketball community. Then, her status as a trailblazer grew even more.

Little was assigned as an official for the Division 3 Boys Basketball Final between Flint Beecher and Traverse City St. Francis, and she became the first female referee to officiate an MHSAA Boys Basketball Final since Traverse City’s Barb Beckett 1995.

“It was a very good feeling to know I was the one selected,” said Little, who officiated the Final with Matt Olson and Zach Porritt.  

In fact, while attending a Semifinal game the Friday before the Final, Little received a phone call from an area code she didn’t recognize.

She answered, and it was Beckett.

“At first I didn’t know the name,” Little said. “I said, ‘No, I don’t know you, but that’s fine.’”

Beckett then explained she was the first female referee to be assigned a Boys Basketball Final, and just wanted to offer support to Little.

At that point, Little became excited and thankful she answered the call.

“It was very nice to hear from her because she wanted to reach out and if not pass the torch, to congratulate me,” Little said.

Little, 51, said she found out she was going to be refereeing the Division 3 boys championship game just before the start of the postseason when she received an email from the MHSAA.

“I’m looking at the email and I’m like, boys?” Little said. “I was shocked.”

But she was shocked in a good way, and obviously excited for the honor.

Little monitors the action between Flint Beecher and Traverse City St. Francis.Little didn’t find out until a couple of days before the St. Francis/Beecher contest that she would be officiating that specific championship game, but the Monday of boys championship week was when she really started to receive congratulations from friends and colleagues.

That’s when an article came out in the Detroit News detailing her selection, which led to countless calls, texts and congratulatory messages on social media.

“I couldn’t even (keep up with the comments),” she said. “That’s how overwhelming the actual tags were. It came from all across the state with officials, men and women, because I do women’s college (games). Some of the college ladies were reaching out. I was getting all the hoopla before the game.”

Little said she normally doesn’t get nervous for games, but not having some nerves became a bit harder once so many people knew of her achievement.

However, she settled into a normal routine quickly once the game started.

“I wanted to get it done, get it over with and do well,” she said.

Little did do well, which is no surprise to everyone who knew her before she officiated on the boys championship stage.

It was just another feather in the cap for Little, who in 2016 became the first woman to officiate a boys Detroit Public School League championship game.

“Delonda is one of the top officials in the Detroit area, and our staff doesn’t look at Delonda as a female working a boys game – we see one of the top officials in Detroit working a basketball game,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said. “There are females officiating in the NBA and female officials in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. The aspect that made Delonda’s selection for this MHSAA championship game nearly unique will soon be the norm at all levels of athletics.”     

Little graduated from Detroit Osborn in 1989 and starred on the basketball court at Wayne State, earning induction into WSU’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2005.

Her day job is as an officer for the Michigan Department of Corrections, but her passion is officiating. She’s been an MHSAA-registered official for basketball for two decades and also was registered for volleyball for four years. This past fall she registered for football for the first time.

“I get something from it because it keeps me in shape, I love the people I work with and I like the kids,” Little said. “You are always teaching, and I like training the newer officials. I just enjoy it. I don’t know what I’d be doing if I wasn’t refereeing.”

Going forward, Little hopes her championship game assignment will now be an inspiration for other female referees.

“There aren’t very many women who would like to work boys basketball or feel comfortable,” Little said. “If that’s something they desire, I’m hoping more women are selected to work the games if they feel comfortable.”

Keith DunlapKeith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties

PHOTOS (Top) Delonda Little takes her position on the court during the Division 3 Boys Basketball Final on March 25 at Breslin Center. (Middle) Little monitors the action between Flint Beecher and Traverse City St. Francis.