EAST LANSING – Detroit Cass Tech’s Darius Acuff was held in check for a majority of the second half Friday by Grand Blanc’s defense.
The talented sophomore, however, came up clutch in a pivotal moment.
The 6-foot-2 guard forced overtime with a 3-pointer and then scored four points in the extra period to help lift the Technicians to a thrilling 62-56 win in a Division 1 Semifinal at Breslin Center.
Cass Tech (27-1) will play Muskegon in Saturday’s Division 1 Final.
After Grand Blanc senior Robert Williams made two free throws with 9.1 seconds left in regulation to put his team ahead 54-51, Acuff banked in a 3-pointer in the waning seconds.
It was only his second field goal of the second half after tallying 10 first-half points.
“Once I got open, I called for the ball and I knew I was going to shoot it,” said Acuff, who finished with a game-high 19 points, five assists and three steals. “I knew it was going in.”
The Technicians took control in the extra session.
A breakaway layup by Acuff pushed the Cass Tech lead to 59-56 with 55 seconds to play. He followed with a pair of free throws to make it 61-56.
“We have some gamers on this team, and he doesn’t practice to my liking a lot of times, but when those lights come on I can count on him,” Technicians coach Steven Hall said of his standout sophomore. “The last play out of the timeout that we got a 3 on, they executed it to the T.”
Cass Tech was making its first Semifinal appearance since 1993, and will play in its first Final since 1974, when it finished Class A runner-up.
Hall guided Detroit Rogers to three straight Class D titles (2003-05) and returned to his alma mater in 2015-16.
“It’s a wide range of emotions right now,” Hall said. “I’m happy to still be living to fight another day.
“For me, it’s my sixth time here but the first time with my school, and it's a dream of mine. It was a dream of mine for these guys. We came so close last year, and sitting here last year and watching the Semifinals was painful, but I’ve been dreaming of getting here with my school.”
Cass Tech ended a 22-game winning streak by Grand Blanc, which was denied a third-straight appearance in the Division 1 Final.
The Bobcats (25-3) rallied from an early deficit, but committed 18 turnovers for the game and were held to one field goal in overtime.
“We didn’t handle the pressure, and one of the keys of our offensive game plan was limiting turnovers,” first-year Grand Blanc coach Tory Jackson said. “You can't beat great teams like that with 18 turnovers, and we just didn’t handle the pressure like we were supposed to.
“Hats off to Acuff. He’s a tough player and by far one of the best players we've played all year. We got undisciplined at the end, and it’s frustrating because this was supposed to be ours. We left money on the table.”
Cass Tech jumped out to an early 11-4 lead as Acuff scored six quick points.
The Bobcats, however, trimmed the deficit to 17-15 in the second quarter with a 3-pointer in the corner from sophomore Donnie Huddleston.
The Technicians took a slim 26-25 lead into halftime.
Grand Blanc took its first lead, 35-34, midway through the third quarter on an offensive rebound and put-back by junior Anthony Perdue.
Cass Tech has become accustomed to close games.
“That’s us being tough and scrappy,” Acuff said. “It’s always going to come down to one possession, and it came down to that. Once we went to overtime we knew we were going to win, but we knew we had to fight for it.”
Senior Tae Boyd led the Bobcats with 16 points and 10 rebounds, while senior RJ Taylor had nine points.
Senior Kenneth Robertson added 15 points for Cass Tech, and freshman Corey Sadler Jr. added 14 points.
PHOTOS (Top) Detroit Cass Tech’s Corey Sadler Jr. (0) gets up a shot during his team’s Division 1 Semifinal overtime win Friday. (Middle) The Technicians’ Darius Acuff shoots the game-tying 3-pointer at the end of regulation despite the defense of Grand Blanc’s Anthony Perdue (5).
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.)