EAST LANSING - The chants from the Menominee student section said it all during the final minute of the first Division 3 Boys Basketball Semifinal on Thursday at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center.
“U.P. power! U.P power!”
Indeed, Menominee represented the Upper Peninsula loud and proud, taking a big early lead, withstanding a furious second-half rally, and then pulling away late for a 74-56 win over Ecorse.
Menominee advanced to its first MHSAA Finals championship game since it won the Class B crown in 1967.
“It’s kind of surreal,” said Menominee senior Brady Schultz.
It was a balanced effort for Menominee, led by Schultz, who had a game-high 26 points to go along with seven rebounds.
Senior Cooper Conway had 18 points and nine rebounds, senior Aidan Bellisle had 12 points and 10 assists and senior Brady Badker added 10 points for Menominee (23-3).
The Maroons showcased their ability to handle what a quick Ecorse team threw at them, displaying their length, ball movement and athleticism.
“That’s been something that’s been our trait and our characteristic all season long,” Menominee coach Sam Larson said. “We are fairly long, and we think we are pretty athletic. I know there is probably a difference in athleticism most times when the U.P. teams come down to play Lower Peninsula teams. But we think we match up athletically with most teams in the state in our division.”
Schultz said a game earlier in the season against Milwaukee Bradley Tech helped his team simulate the quickness and defensive pressure Ecorse offered.
“When we handle the pressure well, we get open shots and dump offs,” Schultz said. “Bradley Tech pretty much helped us with that game.”
Ecorse scored the first five points over the opening 1:34 of the game. But Menominee responded with a 12-0 run over the next three minutes and never looked back.
The Maroons held a 19-13 lead going into the second quarter, and with a 7-2 run took a 36-18 lead with 1:56 remaining until halftime.
Menominee ended up taking a 41-23 lead into the locker room at the break, shooting 51.7 percent from the field overall (15 of 29) and making 7 of 14 shots from 3-point range.
The Maroons also forced 12 turnovers during the first half.
Ecorse came out with more urgency in the second half, employing full-court pressure, hitting some shots and getting back in the game.
The Raiders scored almost as many points during the third quarter (22) as they did in the first half, cutting the Menominee lead to 53-45 entering the fourth quarter.
The lead continued to shrink, with Ecorse cutting the Menominee advantage to 57-52 with 6:11 remaining after a deep 3-pointer by junior Kenneth Morrast Jr.
“I thought we got tentative offensively,” Larson said. “We wanted to just pass it around and run the clock, and that’s not where we are at our best. If we get an open shot, we have to go after it.”
However, Menominee held firm for the next few minutes, keeping a 63-56 lead with 2:38 remaining before putting the game away.
Effectively breaking the Ecorse press, getting stops and making free throws, Menominee went on an 11-0 run, punctuated by a Schultz dunk, to take a 74-56 lead with just over 57 seconds remaining.
Ecorse (9-13), which had to forfeit 10 games during the regular season, was playing in its first Semifinal since 1980.
Morrast scored 20 points, and sophomore Dennell Kemp added 15 for the Raiders.
Ecorse coach Gerrod Abram said he was proud of how his team rallied from a big deficit in the first half, but his squad simply ran out of gas.
“We dug a hole for ourselves that we just couldn’t get out of,” Abram said. “But I’m just so very proud of my team and these young men here.”
PHOTOS (Top) Menominee’s Brady Schultz (24) gets his hands on a loose ball during Thursday’s Division 3 Semifinal win over Ecorse. (Middle) The Maroons celebrate advancing to the championship game. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)