The playoff pairing of the Romulus Eagles and the Belleville Tigers Wednesday night was the fourth such meeting between these two squads this year. For two seasons now Belleville has been the nemesis of neighboring Romulus. The Tigers won all three meetings last year (including two contests on Romulus’ home floor), and two more this season (both on Romulus’ home floor), for a record of 5-1 in the last six meetings. Early in the first half of this game it seemed as if the Tigers would have little trouble making it 6-1.
Four minutes into the gam Belleville’s high-energy style of play had already forced Romulus into four turnovers, but the home team was still able to cling to a 7-6 lead. That’s when the Romulus offense seemed to become stagnant. In the game Romulus won at Belleville, the Eagles used Ronald Coleman to attack from the top of the key. When he got into the lane he was free to shoot or find the open man if help defenders rotated over. Early In this game, however, Ronnie worked the post exclusively. Belleville packed back into their zone as a result and the lack of off-the-ball movement by the Eagle players played right into the hands of the Tigers. The next five Romulus possessions ended in turnovers as time after time the man with the ball would drive into the waiting arms of the help defenders. The Tigers went on a 7-0 run over the next 5 ½ minutes, until Coleman stopped the bleeding with a drive and dish from the top of the key to Demarvelous Carter to make the score 14-9 with 6:30 left in the first half.
Romulus’ next bucket came about a minute later when Ronnie backed down in the post and found Carter with a jump pass down low. Down only 15-11 at that point, the Eagles would go cold again over the next five minutes. Keyed by 6 points from senior Tyler Jones, Belleville went on a 12-2 run to go up 27-13 with 1:49 remaining in the half. Romulus’ only basket during that stretch came on another assist from Coleman. The Eagles were in danger of being blown out when their other star, Jerret Smith, took control and kept his team in it.
Jerret prepares to attack the basket
Smith scored his first bucket with a little over a minute remaining on a drive to the hole to make the score 27-15. Romulus then forced Belleville into a turnover and Smith capitalized on another drive to the hoop, this time finding Carter open down low for the deuce. Following yet another Belleville turnover, Smith again got into the lane and finished with a nice drive and dish to cut the deficit to single digits at 27-19 going into the half. The Eagles were extremely fortunate to be that close at intermission after having committed 11 first half turnovers and shooting 1/5 from the free throw line. While they were able to get a handle on the turnover problems, their free throw shooting would come back to bite them.
Jerret gets into the lane
Tyler Jones came out the locker room and picked up right where he left off, knifing to the bucket to get the lead back out to double digits at 29-19. The Eagles took better care of the ball and were more fluid offensively, eventually cutting the lead to seven at 34-27 with 5:17 remaining. That’s when rising sophomore Leon Freeman, who had 6 points in the first half, began to put his team on his shoulders. He twice nailed a huge 3-pointers to push the lead back to double figures, the final of which made the score 40-29 with 2:45 left in the third. With the end of the quarter drawing near, Jerret Smith stepped up and saved his team from being blown out once again. He hit Ron Coleman on an alley-oop and DeMarvelous Carter on a basket cut to spark 6-0 run in the last 1:45 to make the score 40-35 at the end of 3.
Ron goes up for the oop!
In the final stanza, the two future Wolverines (Coleman and Smith) stepped up and gave Romulus a chance to win the game. Up to that point Coleman had scored only 6 points and shot only 2 jumpers, while Smith only had two points. Almost two-minutes into the final quarter, Coleman nailed his first jumper we he scrambled for a loose ball and picked it up just inside the 3-point line and drained the shot to cut the lead to 3. Freeman responded with a runner to push it back to 5. But Coleman, who seemed to have gained confidence from hitting the previous jumper, came right back down and nailed a DEEP three from the top to make the score 4-40 with 5:35 to go. The score remained the same for next 90 seconds. Then Jerret came through with a three of his own to give the Eagles a 43-42 lead with 4:06 left. Two-thirds of the gym erupted with cheers, but Freeman just wasn’t phased. He calmly pulled up on the other end and went glass from the elbow to regain the lead for Belleville. Not to be out-done, Coleman answered by nailing an even deeper three than the one he hit before to give Romulus a 46-44 lead with 3:33 left. It seemed as if that might be a knockout blow, but the Tigers just wouldn’t die.
Ron with the fade away!
Tyler Jones tilted the game back in the Tigers direction one minute later with a trifecta to make the score 47-46. Belleville would increase the lead on a couple of free throws, but Smith seized control once more. He single-handedly led Romulus on a 5-0 run by attacking the basket on three successive possessions… scoring 4 points himself and dishing to a basket cutting Kyle Wasson, who was hacked in the act and made 1/2 free throws, for the other point. The result was 51-47 Eagle lead with 1:07 left in the game. Jerret had the opportunity to pad the lead from the line a few seconds later, but two misses gave the Tigers one last bit of life.
Leon Freeman got the rebound and drove the length of the court only to throw up a wild three pointer that was off the mark. A Romulus player rebounded the ball and cradled it, but one of the Tigers hit the ball with a closed fist upper cut…sending it flying loose. The ball trickled out beyond the arc where Freeman chased it down before turning and knocking down a HUGE 3 to give the Tigers the lead with 15.5 seconds left. The Eagles had one more opportunity to win when after a timeout smith was fouled going to the basket with 8 seconds remaining. But, as was the case on his previous trip, he missed both attempts and the Tigers escaped with the 52-51 victory.
Coach Nate Oats made a point to say that the loss of this game couldn’t be put on any one player’s shoulders when they shot 8/23 from the line as a team. “I can't put the loss on any one guy because it was the whole team," Oats told the Detroit Free Press. "Everyone is going to look at Jerret's (Smith) misses down the stretch, but really if we make some through the first half and some in the third and fourth quarters, then it doesn't come down to Jerret having to make two to win.”
Ronald Coleman finished his last game as an Eagle with 14 points, 9 rebounds,
4 assists and 2 blocks, while Smith had 9 points, 9 assists, 4 rebounds, and
3 steals. Leon Freeman led the Tigers with 17 points while Tyler Jones finished
with 14. Belleville advances in the playoffs to play Wayne Memorial on Friday.