DETROIT — University of Detroit-Jesuit might have won its seventh consecutive Catholic League boys basketball title — the longest streak in league history — but that doesn’t mean the Cubs were able to coast through the bracket.
In the quarterfinals, U-D Jesuit had to break a halftime tie with Birmingham Brother Rice. In the semifinals, the Cubs were knotted up with Orchard Lake St. Mary entering the final quarter.
And in Saturday’s championship contest, Pat Donnelly’s squad found itself trailing Novi Detroit Catholic Central with four and a half minutes to play.
But that’s when the Cubs seem to elevate their game, Donnelly said.
“They know,” he explained. “They know that they’ve got to clamp down defensively, they’ve got to make good plays offensively, they’ve got to make free throws, and they did all those things to get us that lead. I can’t be more proud of the way the guys reacted in the fourth quarter.”
U-D Jesuit (17-2) closed out the game on a 14-4 tear to win its seventh straight title, 63-54, at University of Detroit-Mercy’s Calihan Hall. Six-foot-10 center Jalen Thomas (13 points, 7 blocks) got the go-ahead bucket off an in-bounds pass, and the Cubs made 8 of 10 free throws from that point forward.
“When it comes down to the fourth quarter, we’ve got to close out the game strong,” Thomas said. “We’ve got to settle down and play defense, get some stops — especially this game, it was a close game. We needed to play defense because we were allowing them to get open lay-ups and offensive rebounds all game, so we needed to tighten that up a little bit and stop turning the ball over in order to execute and get the win.”
The Cubs took control early in the contest, but the Shamrocks (13-4) would not fold, working back to take the lead on two occasions during the second half.
“We came out strong — we were up nine in the first quarter. We had a bit of a drop-off in the second and third quarter, and we just came together as a team at the end of the game and pulled away,” said Julian Dozier, who paced U-D Jesuit with a game-high 25 points. “There was nothing specific; we just played harder. We have confidence in each other that each guy will help, pass the ball if needed, rebound, help each other with whatever we need, so we just worked together as a team and came through.”
Justin Rukat (16 points) and Davis Lukomski (14) led the Shamrocks — the last team to win a title before UD-Jesuit started its title streak.
By winning their seventh straight championship, the Cubs accomplished a first in Catholic League history. The prior high streak was six by Detroit St. Theresa of Avila from 1932-37. That school closed in 1967.
“For this program to have seven straight Catholic League titles is just unbelievable, and I’m very proud of the effort of every kid that’s been in this program during that time,” said Donnelly, who’s coached all seven.
Shrine wins C-D division
Royal Oak Shrine went into the locker room at halftime with a season-low 15 points, but the Knights weren’t about to panic.
“We just came in there optimistic,” senior guard A.J. Massucci said. “Our shots aren’t falling, but we’re still up five, so why not just keep going and see what happens? We needed to keep doing the same thing.”
The thing, as it turned out, was to play stellar defense. The Knights held a 15-10 lead over Ann Arbor Greenhills after the half, and eventually parlayed that into a 41-28 victory.
“All week we talked about how we were going to shut them down, and honestly, we had no idea how we were going to be able to do that, and then it turns out that we held them to 10 points in the first half and 28 for the game,” said A.J’s brother, Anthony.
Anthony, a junior guard, led all scorers with 18 points while A.J. contributed 14. Offensively, that was enough to outscore Greenhills — an affiliate league member making its first appearance in the championship game — yet the siblings couldn’t have done it without other hungry teammates.
“Everybody that came in really stepped up, even people that aren’t defenders, and everyone contributed,” Anthony said. “We had our best defensive game of the year for sure, and we just kept using our defense, knowing our shots would fall in the end, and we made our free throws, too.”
The Gryphons (15-4) closed the gap to three points on a couple occasions, but Shrine (13-6) pulled away in the fourth quarter, when they made all eight free throws in the final 1:33. Greenhills, meanwhile, made just 1 of 12 three-point attempts in the final period.
“We’ve played on big stages before, we just had a bad night,” Greenhills coach Andrew Wright said. “They did a good job with their defense on us. We’re a perimeter team and when we can’t get our shots to fall, it has an effect on decision-making a little bit. We had a lot of missed lay-ups as well, and all those things kind of feed into a tough offensive performance.”