A full house packed into Troy High School's (My guestimation) 2,500 seat gymnasium to take part in Class A's #6 Regional Final between two of the state's best, Pontiac Northern and Orchard Lake St.Mary's but it was Northern who advanced with a hard fought 58-56 win over MSU bound Kalin Lucas and company.
Adding, intensity to the game St. Mary ended Northern's season a playoff ago and the teams may have kicked off an official rivalry Friday evening as emotions ran high in this battle to take another step closer to the State Championship in East Lansing, MI.
The teams each shot 2-of-9 from the field through the first five and a half minutes add in a free-throw a side and the teams were knotted at five.
But, it was St. Mary's 6-foot senior guard and future Spartan Kalin Lucas finding 6-foot-5 senior forward Justin Siller (Purdue University-football) downcourt for an easy two-handed jam. The dunk spurred the Eaglets through the quarter as they held a 16-7 advantage after the first quarter horn.
Second quarter scoring started off at a tortoise's pace before the Huskies' 6-foot-5 senior forward Martell Webb (University of Michigan-football) picked up a Lucas turnover and sailed in for the jam; the first points of an 8-4 run cut the Eaglets' lead to three as the last minutes of the quarter neared an end. St. Mary's was able to push the score up to seven and maintain a 28-25 lead at the half. As the crowd's chants grew louder with the swinging tides of the third quarter, the players mirrored their fans intensity as the lead changed times four times by the end of the third quarter.
5-foot-10 point guard Bryan Smothers was the catalyst of the Huskies comeback as he scored eleven in the quarter and his team took charge with a 44-41 lead.
All in attendance were on the edge of their seats or toes as the lead changed eight times in the final quarter as the referees let the senior laden teams play. Players hit the deck hard for loose balls, the battles on the boards were not for the meek, and 6-foot-6 senior wing John Tassin (Oakland University) had just scored on a St. Mary's fast break to go up three with a minute and change on the clock.
Those were the last points the Eaglets would score as the final minute seemed liked an eternity following foul shots and numerous timeouts. The first foul shots came after Smothers beat his man with a pump fake and then drove the baseline looking for points, he found two at the charity stripe and Northern was down by one.
Lucas was fouled on the Eaglets' ensuing possession and he took a trip to the line but, could not extend the lead as missed the front end of a one-and-one.
Webb pulled down the defensive board and the Huskies quickly advanced the ball up the court where 6-foot-3 senior guard Tim Williams' field goal attempt fell off the rim only to have Webb follow up with the put-back giving his team a one point advantage with 19.1 seconds on the clock.
St. Mary's still had time to win the game but, an errant pass by 6-foot-5 junior forward Jake Shockey at half-court was picked off by 6-foot-1 senior guard Devonte' Pryor who stepped out of bounds just before finding a wide open teammate streaking towards the basket.
With 14.7 seconds left on the clock there was still plenty of time for a comeback victory as the teams broke from a timeout and Lucas in-bounded the ball to Siller who gave it right back to the all-state point guard. Lucas felt the pressure immediately and collided with 5-foot-10 Deon Taylor and the ball fell out of bounds but, possession was awarded to the Eaglets' for another opportunity.
The next possession would not be so fortunate for St. Mary's as Tassin and 6-foot-4 senior Jonathan Gordon were caught up in the corner and made one pass too many as the ball was fumbled out of bounds; Northern ball with 6.2 on the clock.
Pryor fielded the inbound pass and was quickly fouled where he went to the line and hit one of two doubling the lead to two. The Eaglet's still had time as Lucas flew down the court only to lose control 10 feet away from his goal as the buzzer sounded to end the game.
The 58-56 Northern victory advances them to the quarterfinals where they will play Warren De LaSalle next Tuesday at Calihan Hall as part of a double-header.
Summing up the statistics, the teams never found rhythm in the half-court sets and neither team shot particularly well from the field. Northern shot 35% from the field on 21-of-59 shooting and St. Mary's wasn't much better shooting 38% hitting 25-of-65 field goal attempts.
Northern's Williams and St. Mary's Tassin each hit a three pointer, the only buckets from deep for their teams. Northern did go to the free-throw stripe more frequently hitting 13 of their 18 attempts while St. Mary's was five of seven. Northern was dominated on the boards 48-30 as St. Mary's grabbed 20 on the offensive end, while Northern managed eleven.
The Eaglets' however, did turn the ball over 17 times compared to ten from the Huskies.
Smothers is the least popularized of the Huskies fearsome foursome but, his 21 points provided stable scoring as his teammates had off-nights. The state's best unsigned senior, Tim Williams, was a horrendous 6-of-23 from the field while scoring 13 points. Pryor added eleven while contributing four assists and Webb added eleven but, none were bigger than his game-winning put-back.
Lucas led all scorers with 23 points on 10 of 20 shooting from the field, he also added four assists, and three steals but, committed five turnovers.
Tassin, Siller, and Gordon all scored eight apiece. Siller led all players with ten rebounds, half on the offensive side.