By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – Romulus coach Nate Oats called it abnormal rather than rare for his players to show up at school at 6 a.m. this season to take extra shots before class.
Point guard Wesley Clark made himself familiar with a few hills too as he took the extra steps necessary to avoid leaving Breslin Center again without a championship trophy.
This weekend’s trip to Michigan State was the Eagles’ fourth in six seasons, and they played in their first championship game Saturday since finishing runner-up in 2005. But those early mornings and extra shots became all worth it when, in Oats’ words, “We finally got this thing done.”
Romulus led the Final from start to finish in defeating Detroit Southeastern 61-49 to claim its first Class A title since 1986 and cap one of the finest seasons by a Class A team in recent memory.
“As a junior, it was my first time being here to the Breslin, and I didn’t understand what type of feeling it was to lose at Breslin,” Clark said. “Coming into senior year, I knew I didn’t want to feel that again. So I took that on in the offseason and in the spring, ... just to make sure this wouldn’t happen again.”
Romulus finished 27-1, its only loss to Detroit Pershing – which the Eagles then avenged in Tuesday’s Quarterfinal.
Of those 27 wins, all but six were by 10 or more points.
“Our theme of the year was ‘dominate,’ and dominating is mainly just winning and winning by a large margin,” Clark said. “We took that on as a statement and challenge. That’s what we tried to do, is dominate.”
Oats broke it down Saturday much like his team broke down opponents all season.
It started with talent, and the Eagles obviously weren’t lacking. Oats called the Missouri-bound Clark the most competitive player he’s coached. Rhode Island recruit E.C. Matthews is one of the biggest “gym rats” he’s had, and Louisiana Tech signee Leonardo Edwards showed in spurts that he might’ve been the top big man in Michigan. Plus, “we played harder than everybody,” Oats said.
“If you’re more talented than everybody, and played harder, you’re not going to lose most of the time,” he added. “If you’re not in our program, nobody has any idea how many hours these guys put in at the gym. … They’ve made themselves into really good players."
Matthews scored 20 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the Final, giving him 86 points and 27 rebounds over three games this week. Edwards had 13 points and nine rebounds Saturday, and Clark had 12 points and five assists.
Similar to the Semifinal, Romulus jumped to a 7-0 lead off the opening tip. Southeastern got within four with a minute to play in the first half, but the Eagles led by double figures for all but 47 seconds of the second.
“They get the ball up the floor quickly, and they can shoot the basketball. They do it with precision. I said it (Friday), they do what they do probably better than anybody in the Midwest,” Jungaleers coach George Ward, Jr., said. “Is it unstoppable? Of course not. We just didn’t follow the game plan, so to speak. Once the heat of battle came, we kinda forgot about exactly what it was we really wanted to do to them defensively. And our frustrations really initiated off the fact that we didn’t score like we wanted to.”
Senior guard Jovone Haynes – whose last-minute steal made him the hero of Southeastern’s Semifinal win – led the Jungaleers again with 16 points and six steals.
Junior forward Daryl Bigham had 10 points and senior guard Kwesi Williams had 10 points and six rebounds. But Southeastern made only 27 percent of its shots from the floor and only 16 percent from 3-point range.
Southeastern finished 21-6 and with a second runner-up finish in three seasons. The Jungaleers also advanced to the Final in 2011.
“Toughness with some good talent is very important. Our guys showed mental toughness during the course of this season,” Ward said. “We always play a very good schedule, and if you just do things the right way, you’ll always be in position to win.
“Some kind of way, we always manage to win basketball games and get kids to college. … The toughness really can supersede some of the talent levels. We had some toughness, and that helped carry us.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Romulus’ Wesley Clark (15) drives for two of his 12 points in Saturday’s Class A Final. (Middle) Mays and teammate Juwan Clark (3) form a shell over a driving Jovone Haynes. (Click to see more at HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
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.)