By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – The final celebration of the 2015-16 Michigan high school basketball season started during the final seconds when a Detroit Henry Ford assistant coach slapped hands of everyone sitting on the bench.
After the buzzer, the crowd moved to the south end of the Breslin Center floor, before players and coaches arm in arm made their way upcourt to the opposite baseline and into position to receive the first MHSAA championship trophy in school history.
Saturday night’s Class B Final was guaranteed to produce a first-time winner in boys basketball. It ended up being the team that fell just one victory short the season before – from a school that had never won a title in any sport in Finals competition.
Henry Ford, runner-up in 2015, is champion in 2016 thanks to a 61-47 win over Stevensville Lakeshore, which like the Trojans entered the postseason unranked but more than topped that expectation.
“Ever since the loss, we’ve been preparing in the gym to get back here, and not just to get here but to win it,” Henry Ford senior guard James Towns said. “It took a lot of work to get back here. It’s almost like losing everything when you get back here and lose.
“This year they doubted us; nobody had us winning. We were the bottom of Class B, and we came up here and proved them wrong.”
Henry Ford became the 13th school from the prestigious Detroit Public School League to win an MHSAA boys basketball title, giving the league two in two seasons after Detroit Western International also won its first boys hoops championship in 2015, in Class A.
The Trojans (20-6) fell in last season’s Class B Final 85-68 to Wyoming Godwin Heights, another first-time champion at the time.
This trip, Henry Ford was faced with multiple styles, first charged with shutting down guard-driven Williamston in the Semifinal (which it did 70-48) and then matched against a Lakeshore team boasting 6-foot-11 senior Braden Burke and 6-7 junior Max Gaishin. The tallest players in Ford’s regular rotation were 6-4.
Burke and Gaishin both had four points as Lakeshore stayed within a point during the first quarter, trailing 11-10 at the break. But they were unable to have an effect during a second quarter that saw the Lancers make only 1 of 7 shots from the floor and turn the ball over five times as Ford went on a 16-3 run to open up a 14-point advantage by halftime.
Burke and Gaishin would still lead a Lakeshore run. Burke had seven points and Gaishin four during the third quarter as their team cut into Ford’s lead substantially. The Trojans led 34-28 with a quarter to play. Another Burke bucket made the margin six again at 36-30 with 7:17 left on the clock.
“It’s a shame we got ourselves down in the first half. I’m not sure we reacted as well as we needed to the physicality of the ballgame in the first half,” Lakeshore coach Sean Schroeder said. “The second half, I think we did. We were one or two plays from really getting ourselves back in it.
“We had the momentum. If we get a stop, cut it to four, maybe it gets more interesting.”
Instead, Ford hustled to create its breakaway moment after Lakeshore did just about everything possible to prevent it.
After Burke's basket, a 3-pointer by sophomore Deonta Ulmer pushed the Trojans’ lead back to nine. Towns stole the ball on Lakeshore’s ensuing possession and pushed it into the post, where Burke and Gaishin blocked consecutive shots.
But 6-3 junior Malik Harris came up with the ball after the second block and moved it to Towns, who found senior Jeremy Crawley in the corner for a back-breaking 3-pointer that pushed Ford’s advantage to 42-30.
“We gave up so much size all season. You can’t question the size of our hearts though,” Ford coach Kenneth Flowers said. “These guys play with so much passion, so much desire, and understand that the game is really won in the trenches. These guys always battle, always played against bigger guys, but they knew how to be tough down there.”
Burke, who scored a game-high 19 points, continued to battle and got the deficit back to seven with 1:48 to play. But nine of the game’s final 11 shots were made Trojans free throws.
Crawley scored 18 points, and Towns closed his high school career with 15 points and three assists. Senior forward Alston Hunter, who with Towns started on last year’s team, had 11 points, 10 rebounds and three steals. Ford outrebounded Lakeshore 30-19 and had 17 second-chance points.
Senior guard Logan Steffes added 10 points for Lakeshore, and Gaishin finished with nine points, five rebounds and two blocks.
The Lancers were playing in their second MHSAA Final and also finished Class B runner-up in 2012. They will graduate seven including four starters.
“When this class was growing up, we knew we had Braden and we knew we had Logan coming through,” Schroeder said. “But to see the development of some of these other kids, we had a tremendous senior class, a tremendous amount of leadership.
“A kid like Logan Steffes, who has put so much time and energy into this program. You saw at the end, he was trying to will us to win the game. He steals it, misses the shot, gets the ball back, misses. He wanted badly to win that game.”
The Boys Basketball Finals are presented by Sparrow Health System.
PHOTOS: (Top) Detroit Henry Ford players celebrate their first MHSAA championship in any sport Saturday. (Middle) The Trojans' James Towns soars as he prepares to launch.
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.)