By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – Grand Rapids Catholic Central’s victory celebration had a championship feel Friday night.
The Cougars hadn’t locked down their first MHSAA boys basketball title yet. But it was impossible to not understand their heightened excitement.
Leading from start to finish, GRCC eliminated New Haven with a 69-53 Class B Semifinal win at the Breslin Center, in the process ending the reigning champion’s 52-game winning streak.
And if that was at all a surprise, how the Cougars got there was just as stunning.
Junior guard Austin Braun, carrying a 7.8 points-per-game average heading into the week, scored 31 while Mr. Basketball finalist Marcus Bingham, Jr., watched the final five minutes from the bench after fouling out.
“I got a couple buckets early and my teammates just really got me going, just getting me hyped on the bench,” Braun said, “and just telling me, ‘If they don’t stop you, just score the ball.’
“It helps when you have two bigs and Darrell (Belcher) and Devin (Boyd) were great players around me. It just opens up a lot for me.”
Grand Rapids Catholic Central (24-2) will play for that first championship against Benton Harbor at 6:45 p.m. Saturday in the final game of this boys basketball season.
Those bigs – the 6-foot-11 Bingham and 6-8 senior Jacob Polakovich – were plenty effective in a number of ways Friday.
Bingham had 11 points and 13 rebounds, and Polakovich had eight points and eight rebounds. But their larger impact came defensively. Bingham had six blocks, and together the tandem played a significant role in New Haven’s 30-percent shooting from the floor.
The Rockets’ 6-7 junior star Romeo Weems put together a solid line with 20 points, eight rebounds and seven steals. But even he was off his usual sharpness, making only 7 of 25 shots from the floor.
New Haven (26-1) as a team entered the week making 49 percent of its shots, with Weems connecting on 53 percent.
“We adjusted our shots. We saw it on film and we went to attack them,” New Haven coach Tedaro France II said. “We wanted to jump stop and pump fake. (But) they changed our shot selection a lot, disrupted our shots in the paint with some of their size.”
Braun, meanwhile, was just about perfect offensively. He made 8 of 9 shots from the floor, including his lone 3-point try, and 14 of 16 free throw attempts. He also had three assists and three steals.
The first of those steals came between buckets as he scored the game’s first four points. The free throw shooting came in handy at the end, as Braun drilled nine over the final five minutes to help the Cougars extend an 11-point lead to 18 after Bingham’s night was done.
“I knew he could score like that,” Polakovich said. “It’s just always been a matter of having a lot of mismatches inside with me and Marcus and being able to crash. … (But) a lot of people don’t realize he’s capable of doing that every single night. He’s a lot more than just a really great passer.”
Bingham did finish with 11 points despite a tough 3-of-11 shooting night as well, and grabbed 13 rebounds with six blocked shots. Weems was followed by senior guard Tavares Oliver, Jr., with 15 points and senior forward Ashton Sherrell with 12 points and seven rebounds.
PHOTOS: (Top) Grand Rapids Catholic Central’s Marcus Bingham, Jr., gets a hand on Romeo Weems’ shot Friday at the Breslin Center. (Middle) GRCC’s Austin Braun puts up a shot with Ronald Jeffrey III defending.
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.)