Defense, timely free throws send East Lansing to Quarterfinals
Insert your sports cliches here: Defense wins championships. Misses at the charity stripe will come back to haunt them. It's tough to beat a team for a third time in the same season. East Lansing used them all Wednesday night in the Regional final to knock off CAAC Blue rival Okemos, 50-42. The Trojans (22-3) advance to the Quarterfinals, where they'll face Holland West Ottawa next Tuesday night at Lansing Eastern high school. After the Chiefs (20-5) had beaten E.L. twice in the regular season to clinch the league title, it took some stellar defense from the Trojans to shutdown the high-powered Okemos offense. However, things were clicking early for Okemos as Evan Thomas & Gerald Sambear III hit a trio of 3's, forcing East Lansing interim coach Kevin Mayes to call a timeout. It was 11-5 Chiefs. And Brandon Johns had had enough. The Senior forward began asserting himself down low, bringing the Trojans back to an 11-11 tie. It was 13 a piece after one. The second quarter was much of the same for East Lansing as Johns continued his assault in the paint and the Trojans built up a bit of lead. And their defense built up their intensity as well. Okemos Senior guard Jordan Henry, fresh off a 30-point performance in the Regional Semifinal, was blanketed by Jack Morse and several other Trojan defenders as the obvious game plan was to force other Chiefs to beat them. And the Okemos offense grew stagnant. But they kept it close, with East Lansing holding a slim 23-20 lead at the half. Henry was held to 1 point in the first 16 minutes. The third quarter saw the Trojans amass a larger lead, with points becoming a premium for both squads. A few key shots late in the quarter again brought Okemos close to their competitors, 31-29 Trojans through three. As the fourth rolled around, it was clear that free throws might be key to whomever would win the game. East Lansing was building their lead late, but Okemos wouldn't go away without a fight. Three's by Gerald Sambear III and Noah Pruitt brought the Chiefs back within a few points. But time was ticking away, so the Chiefs had to play the foul game and force the Trojans to earn it at the line. In the regular season, Okemos had an obvious advantage at the charity stripe. Especially in the 2nd contest with East Lansing, when Brandon Johns missed 5 consecutive free throws in the 4th quarter of a tight contest. And those misses had to be looming in the back of his mind. After bricking his first two of Wednesday's game, Johns went on to make 4 straight in consecutive trips and push the Trojans' lead back up to 6, 48-42. Then a steal and two more free throws by Noah Schon sealed East Lansing's first Regional crown since 2008. Brandon Johns led all scorers with 27 points. He also had 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 steals and 2 blocks. Noah Schon contributed 9 points. Okemos had three players in double figures, led by Evan Thomas' 13 points. Noah Pruitt added 12 points, while Gerald Sambear III chipped in with 11. The Chiefs' leading scorer coming into the ballgame Jordan Henry was shutdown, only amassing 2 points, both from the free throw line. This time around, the sports cliches came true: Defense won a Regional Championship. East Lansing only missed two free throws (12-14). The third outcome was different than the first two.
Brandon Johns: 27 pts, 8 reb, 3 ast, 3 stl, 2 blk
Noah Schon: 9 pts
Jack Morse: 6 pts
Evan Thomas: 13 pts
Noah Pruitt: 12 pts
Gerald Sambear III: 11 pts