Breslin boundPublished 11:35pm Tuesday, March 22, 2011
MIDDLEVILLE — For the first time in 28 years the Dowagiac Chieftains boys basketball team is headed to the state semi-finals.
Dowagiac (20-6) defeated East Grand Rapids (15-10) by the score of 68-58 on Tuesday night to advance to the semi-final round of the Class B state tournament for the first time since 1983. The last time the Chieftains advanced this far the venue was Crisler Arena at the University of Michigan, this time it’s the Breslin Center on the campus of Michigan State University.
“The kids told me that I didn’t have to buy my tickets to Michigan State this year,” said a numb Dowagiac coach Danum Hunt.
Dowagiac started the night scoring the first basket of the game on a bucket by senior Tremail Butcher, but quickly found itself on the trailing end of a 7-2 ballgame as East Grand Rapids took a 3-2 lead on a three-pointer by Cory Ditmar, then back-to-back baskets by Austin Howell brought the score to 7-2 halfway through the first period.
Two free throws from sophomore sensation Dontel Highsmith, followed by another basket from Butcher pulled the Chieftains within 7-6.
A 7-0 run by the Pioneers and nine first quarter turnovers by Dowagiac saw the Chieftains fall behind 14-6, but a 5-0 run by Dowagiac to end the quarter, fueled by a long range bomb from senior Troy Butcher, pulled them within three 14-11 after one period of play.
Another basket by Tremail Butcher to start the second quarter capped the 7-0 run of the Chieftains that pulled them back to one 14-13. Ditmar connected on his second triple of the game for East as they jumped back out front 17-13, but back-to-back buckets from senior Darius Wilson sparked another Chieftain run and the two teams were all square at 17-17 with four minutes remaining in the half.
The two teams, which appeared to be mirror images of each other in style of play, battled basket for basket over the last four minutes of the half. The Pioneers were paced by Austin Howell with six of the teams’ final ten points of the half, while Dowagiac was led by Highsmith with six, but it was another three point basket by Troy Butcher that was the difference as the Chieftains held the slim 28-27 halftime advantage.
“Right from the beginning we had three or four unforced turnovers. I think it was a little bit of the nerves and the jitters, but I told the guys that tonight’s game was just like any other game, just in a different venue against a different team”, said Hunt. “We go out to play to win every night, and we are going to go out to play to win tonight, there’s nothing to lose here.”
What they had to lose was a chance to go to East Lansing on Friday night.
Only a one point game on the scoreboard at the break, both teams saw their star players emerge in the third quarter.
After a basket by Howell gave East the lead right out of the gate in the third, Highsmith and Wilson took over for Dowagiac. The half-brothers scored all seventeen of the Chieftain points in the quarter, but Dowagiac couldn’t shake loose of the Pioneers as Deon Jobe and Deandre Grady combined for eleven of the sixteen East points as the Chieftains held the 45-43 edge after three quarters of play.
“I started off very weak, I had the jitters, but I told my brother (Highsmith) to give me the ball and we’re going to make it happen,” said Wilson after the game.
Heading into the final period with a two point lead, only eight minutes separated the Chieftains from the state semi-finals.
Troy Butcher got things started for Dowagiac as he buried his third three-point basket to start the quarter as the Chieftains increased their lead to 48-43.
Leading 50-47 with 5:45 remaining in the game, Highsmith took the ball coast to coast with a layup for the Chieftains, then teammate Troy Butcher stole the inbounds pass and knocked down a baseline jumper to increase the lead 54-47, Dowagiac’s biggest lead of the game up to that point.
The Dowagiac faithful was loud, and proud as they could start to sense that a semi-final appearance was clearly within reach.
After Grady and Jobe each sank two free throws for the Pioneers, the seven point lead was once again only three, 54-51 and the Grand Rapids fans were making themselves heard as well.
Clinging to a 60-58 lead with only a minute and a half to play, Highsmith hit what could arguably be the biggest shot of Dowagiac’s season, as he knocked down a floater in the lane to give the Chieftains just a little more breathing room, 62-58.
After a Dowagiac steal, Wilson found fellow senior Chris Craft under the basket for his only points of the game as the Chieftains opened up the six point advantage, and everyone could sense where this game was headed.
Two free throws from Wilson increased the lead to eight, and it was all but over. The Pioneers were unable to connect on the offensive end of the floor and the Chieftains knocked down enough free throws to hold them off.
“God was just with us, because we played out of sync tonight, we didn’t knock down any shots, we didn’t execute well offensively, defensively rotations were bad, but we’ve talked all year about dealing with adversity and fighting through it, the kids did a fabulous job of sticking it out, coming together in the end, to pull off the win,” said a proud Hunt. “I am really proud of their effort.”
Highsmith led all scorers with 27 points, none bigger than the floater with a 1:29 to play.
“Dontel never ceases to amaze me, he’s our leader, and when the game is on the line I prefer the ball to be in his hands and I trust what he is going to do with the ball,” said Hunt. “He bailed us out again.”
Wilson contributed 18 points, and 11 rebounds, and the play of Troy Butcher was as big factor tonight as well as he contributed 15 points.
“Troy has the ability to score and it didn’t surprise me at all, he helped us out when we needed help,” he said.
Dowagiac will advance to Friday nights Class B state semi-final where they will face Muskegon Heights at 7:50 pm. Muskegon Heights (20-6) was a 60-49 winner over Cadillac in the Houghton Lake quarter final.