Only four teams win their last game at the end of the boy’s high school basketball season.
In all of Michigan, only four teams finish the year hoisting a trophy, smiling and celebrating. Only four – state champions in Classes A, B, C and D – out of well over 600.
The rest of those teams – no matter how special their season, how amazing their run or how beloved they are to friends, family and the community – walk off the court having lost their final game of the year.
On Tuesday night, in the Class B state quarterfinals at Chelsea High School, it was Lumen Christi’s turn to take that bitter, painful walk. The Titans magnificent season came to an end in a 50-47 loss to Detroit Community High School. The Hurricanes (17-9) move on to the state semifinals at the Breslin Center next weekend. The Titans (21-4) saw their spirited quest for basketball glory fall three games short.
“We gave it everything we had,” senior guard Amani Bass said outside the Titan locker room after the game. “It came right down to the end and we just couldn’t execute. We couldn’t get it done. We needed that long, miracle three-pointer at the end, and we didn’t get it.”
Indeed, the Titans had a shot.
Sophomore guard Khari Willis rebounded a missed Hurricane free throw with 2.1 seconds remaining in regulation and called a quick time out, giving LC one final chance. In the stands, there were rumblings of Wisconsin’s Ben Brust, whose half-court heave in Madison against Michigan sent the Badgers into overtime in February. But Willis’ desperation shot at the buzzer was off the mark, and the Hurricanes swarmed the court in celebration.
“We just didn’t execute,” senior forward Alex Potter said. “We just didn’t do the things we needed to do to win this one. We had a plan for everything they did, but we didn’t follow through and our shots just didn’t fall.”
But the game remained in doubt until those closing seconds.
Detroit Community led 15-11 at the end of the first quarter, only to see Lumen Christi fire back and tie it 22-22 at halftime. The Titan defense, which included putting Willis and Bass down in the post to muscle up against the Hurricanes taller front line, was tenacious in holding Community to one of their lowest first half totals of the year. Forward Bo Ziegler, a 6’6 senior headed to South Florida to play next year, was held to just four points in the half and 6’5 Jason Buyck, another offensive threat, scored only two.
In the second half, however, the Hurricanes switched to a zone defense and that long and athletic front line took control. Ziegler (who finished with 9 points), Buyck (who scored 7) and Eastern Michigan bound 6’6 senior Jerrell Martin (a team high 10 points) began to assert itself.
“They mixed things up on us by going to the zone,” Bass said. “We didn’t respond to it like we should have.”
“It was hard to get shots off against them,” Titan junior forward Matt Bullinger added. “It wasn’t just their height, it was their long arms. It was definitely hard to shoot over the top of them.”
Just as Lansing Sexton rolled through a big third quarter last week in a regional final to put the Titans on the ropes, Detroit Community did the same. Buyck picked up the scoring pace for the Hurricanes, as did 6’3 junior Demetrius Rose (6 points) and guard Darryl Smith (who scored 8). Community opened up a seven point lead and seemed on the verge of closing it out, but as they did against Sexton, the Titans roared back.
Bass, playing in his last game for LC, dropped four three-pointers on the Hurricanes and Willis (a game high 15 points) continued to drive hard to the basket. Potter and Bullinger began hitting shots and the Titans found themselves down only two heading into the fourth quarter.
But in the end, with senior guard Ramell Robinson scoring eight second half points, the Hurricanes did just enough
For Lumen Christi, which won conference, district and regional championships, the ride ends here. The reflection and the memories, however, will continue.
“This was about the seniors,” Bullinger said. “This group of seniors taught the rest of us how to practice, how to prepare, how to study and how to be a team. We’re in better shape as a program because of what this group of seniors did for us.”
Bass, who will gear up and play football next fall for Siena Heights, managed to smile for a moment as he reflected on his Titan career.
“I loved all four years here,” he said. “It was an honor to play with these guys and play for this team.”
As they mingled with friends and family, accepting handshakes and pats on the back and hugs in the aftermath of this season ending defeat, there was a somber mix of tears and laughter.
But mostly there was a very special basketball team – a team with championship pedigree and the hardware to support it – ready to climb back on the bus and head home, their place in school history forever marked, their dream cut just short.