Lincoln Beats Buzzer for 1st Basketball Title

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

March 16, 2019

EAST LANSING – All eyes were on Ypsilanti Lincoln freshman Emoni Bates on Saturday as the seconds ticked away in the Division 1 Boys Basketball Final. 

None were on Lincoln senior Jalen Fisher. But that all changed when the buzzer sounded. 

Fisher’s rebound and jumper as time expired gave the Railsplitters their first MHSAA boys hoops title with a 64-62 victory over U-D Jesuit at the Breslin Center. 

"At the beginning of this game, I just told (Fisher) to be patient, your time is coming man, be patient,” Lincoln coach Jesse Davis said. “During the timeouts I said, ‘Jalen be patient, your time is coming.’ I didn’t know it was going to come like that, but I’m glad it happened to him, because I believed in him the whole time.”

The last-second shot was the first to win a championship game featuring the state’s largest schools – formerly Class A, now Division 1 – since Lansing Sexton defeated Hamtramck in overtime in Class A in 1959.

Fisher’s shot ended a dramatic final quarter, which saw Lincoln (23-4) rally from a nine-point deficit. The Railsplitters took possession of the ball in a tie game with 1 minute, 20 seconds remaining, and drained the clock to set up a final shot. 

That shot was supposed to be for Bates – considered the top freshman in the country – who gathered the ball in the backcourt but was immediately doubled as he came across half court. 

“We trapped him, trying to get the ball out of his hands,” U-D Jesuit coach Pat Donnelly said. “I thought they got a decent, a clean look up top, but it was forced way out. That was what we talked about going in, that we were going to double (Bates) if he caught the ball.” 

Bates passed out of the double team to senior teammate Amari Frye, who launched a 3-pointer from the top of the arc. He thought it was good – he remarked he thinks every shot he takes is good – and so did Fisher, but it hit the side of the iron and caromed to a wide open Fisher who capitalized with the game-winner. 

“I thought it was good, but it hit the top of the rim and came in my hands, so I just shot it and it was good,” Fisher said. “I just shot it, and when it went in, I just saw black. Then I saw people on top of me. It was a good feeling though.” 

Fisher, who played all 32 minutes and finished with 16 points, fell immediately to his back after hitting the shot and was mobbed by his teammates near the Lincoln bench.  

“I talk to my kids about living in the moment, and this was a moment that nobody saw coming but us,” Davis said. “I just think it’s great to have some kids you can take and you start with them when they’re freshman – Amari, Tahj (Chatman), Jalen came when he was a junior – but I’ve been instilling a championship mentality in Tahj and Amari for four years. Then we add somebody like Jalen with exceptional speed, toughness and a will to win, then you add somebody like Emoni Bates who can carry us through tough games and make big shots, and do everything the other guys couldn’t do. It just came out so beautiful, man.” 

The Cubs (25-3) led for most of the game and nearly all of the second half after taking an 11-point lead into halftime. Daniel Friday scored 19 points, while Julian Dozier added 18 and six assists to put their team in control and up 60-51 with five minutes to play. 

But Lincoln fought back and went on an 11-0 run, taking a 62-60 lead on a Frye layup with 1:38 remaining. Dozier responded immediately with a layup of his own to tie the game, but the Cubs wouldn’t see the ball again in the final 1:20. 

“We’re the same kind of team as them; we score points in bunches,” Davis said. “We can get on a run and score. We’re capable of making runs just like them, so I keep telling my team, ‘Hey, keep doing what we do, keep applying pressure on both ends, and some shots will go down for us.’” 

Bates scored in spurts himself, finishing with a game-high 23 points despite not having his best shooting night (7-of-22 from the floor and 1-of-7 from 3-point range). He was 8-of-8 from the free-throw line, however. 

The Cubs played Friday on Bates for much of the game. Friday was giving up five inches to the 6-foot-9 Bates, but had a 45-pound weight advantage. Jordan Montgomery, who was giving up more than a foot in height, also countered with strength. 

“(The U-D Jesuit defense) was good, but I just wasn’t making shots today,” Bates said. “I was getting to my spots, but my shot just wasn’t falling.” 

Bates also had six rebounds and three blocks for the Railsplitters, while Frye finished with 15 points.  

Montgomery added nine points, all on 3-pointers, for the Cubs, while University of Massachusetts-bound senior Jalen Thomas had six points and seven rebounds. 

“I want to congratulate Ypsilanti Lincoln on a tremendously hard-fought victory – they're a good team,” Donnelly said. “Coming into this game we heard all this stuff about, ‘You have to stop Emoni, stop Emoni,’ but we were a lot more concerned with more than Emoni. They have some good players out there.” 

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Ypsilanti Lincoln celebrates its first MHSAA boys basketball championship Saturday at the Breslin Center. (Middle) Jalen Fisher launches the game-winning shot as the final seconds tick off the clock in the Division 1 Final.

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.