EAST LANSING — Sometimes, that’s just the way the ball bounces … literally.

After an Ypsilanti Lincoln player clanked a potential tie-breaking three-point attempt off the rim, the rebound bounced directly over to the Railsplitters’ Jalen Fisher, who simply picked up the ball and let fly with a 15-footer that swished the net as the buzzer sounded.

And just like that, University of Detroit-Jesuit saw the MHSAA Division 1 boys’ basketball championship fall out of its grasp and into the hands of Lincoln, 64-62, Saturday at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center.

“Credit to them,” Cubs coach Pat Donnelly said. “They were opportunistic, got the offensive rebound and they had the wherewithal to put that shot up, and he was true on it.”

The game was tied at 62 for the final 1:18, after Julian Dozier had knotted it up with a scoop lay-up, but little did the Cubs know they would never get the ball back to add more points.

Following Dozier’s bucket, Lincoln called time-out to set up a play. The Cubs figured the ball would go to Railsplitters freshman Emoni Bates — considered the nation’s top freshman talent and the state’s best prospect since Earvin “Magic” Johnson — who had already scored a game-high 23 points.

The Railsplitters kept a deliberate pace, milking most of the remaining time off the clock, yet they couldn’t find a good opportunity and called another timeout with 13.7 seconds remaining.

Following that time-out, Lincoln in-bounded the ball to Bates, but the Cubs’ defense double-teamed him, and he passed the ball to Amari Frye at the top of the key. Frye launched a 3-point attempt that didn’t go in, yet it set the stage for Fisher’s heroics. 

“I thought we did a decent job of forcing a 25-footer, we just didn’t secure the rebound, and that’s the killer,” Donnelly said. “You force a tough shot and you don’t collect the rebound, and they get a game-winner off of that. That’s heart-breaking.”

Adding to the heart-break was the fact that U-D Jesuit led for most of the game. The Cubs closed out the first half with 9 straight points to take a 34-23 lead. After Lincoln opened the second half on a 16-4 tear to take a 39-38 lead, Daniel Friday scored seven points in one minute — including a thunderous dunk — to go up 45-39.

Jordan Montgomery’s fall-away 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter upped the Cubs’ lead to 56-47, yet Lincoln hung around, outscoring U-D Jesuit 11-0 to take a brief lead before Dozier’s late basket.

“It was a little disheartening that we had an 11-point lead at halftime and we let them back in in the third quarter with some turnovers and a little lackadaisical defense,” Donnelly said. “But if there’s one thing this team’s done all year, they’ve continued to fight and they never think they’re out of a game.”

Friday led the Cubs with 19 points in the championship game, while Dozier added 18.

Despite the sour ending, the Cubs (25-3) accomplished a lot this winter, winning an all-time best seventh consecutive Catholic League title.

The team continued on a roll in the post-season, beating five of its seven opponents leading up to the finale by 30 points or more, including a 63-25 thrashing of Okemos in Friday’s state semi-final, so followers thought the Cubs’ odds of capturing their second state title in four seasons were favorable.

“You could look at the stats and it’s kind of hard to believe,” Donnelly said. “I think we shot the ball well — turnovers are something we’re probably going to talk about — and I think we had some good opportunities at the rim in the last few minutes of the game where we just didn’t convert.”

Donnelly will have to re-stock next year, as four of the Cubs’ five starters — Friday, Dozier, Montgomery and Jalen Thomas — are seniors, as well as top reserves Caleb Hunter and Khy Winston.

“I’m proud of this team,” Donnelly added. “We battled a lot of adversity all year. These guys have worked hard their entire careers. They’ve done a phenomenal job representing University of Detroit-Jesuit High School. It’s painful right now, being so close, but at the same time we’ve got a lot to be proud of.”


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