Division 2: Niles snaps district title drought with win over Tigers
Published 10:44 am Saturday, March 11, 2023
NILES — The last time Niles lifted a district championship trophy, current Head Coach Myles Busby was a senior in 2012.
The time before that, Vikings’ Assistant Coach Desmond Favors was a member of the Niles boys basketball team a decade later.
Busby and Favors helped prepare the current Niles team to take on five-time defending Division 2 District champion Benton Harbor. Then they turned it over to the likes of Mike Phillips, Jayson Johnson and Ethan Chambliss to get the job done.
And that is exactly what that trio did as they combined for all but nine of the Vikings’ points in a 65-61 win over the Tigers Friday night, which snapped the 11-year drought between championships.
“It was a long time ago,” Busby said about winning the last district championship. “It was another 10 years before that. About every 10 or 11 years, districts happen to be held here and we happen to come out on top. But, I told them all year that it is not easy, and it is going to take a lot of hard work to get on top. What more can you ask for than to be here on a Friday night and having to beat Benton Harbor? You have to beat the best to be the best, and I thought they answered the call tonight.”
Busby was correct that it was not easy for his team, which rode a roller coaster of success and adversity throughout the 2022-23 season. The Vikings caught fire in early February, winning nine of its final 10 games. Niles is currently on a six-game winning streak.
Part of the reason for that success is the play of Phillips, who finished Friday night’s championship game with 31 points to lead all scorers. Phillips was 17-of-18 from the free throw line, including 7-of-8 in the second quarter to help keep Niles within striking distance of the Tigers, and a perfect 6-of-6 down the stretch in the fourth quarter to seal the Vikings’ victory.
Phillips tied the game at 51-51, and his 3-pointer with 1:58 remaining in the game put Niles up for good.
“That kid is special,” Busby said of Phillips. “Southwest Michigan is an under-recruited area. That kid is going to make a lot of noise. He is not afraid to put in the work. He put in a lot of work during the summer like he always does. The last three games, he had 32, whatever he had tonight and then 20 against Edwardsburg and then 29 against Three Rivers. He is a gym rat. He is going to make a college coach very happy. He is going to make me very happy the rest of this year and next year.”
Phillips said that winning a district championship means a lot this his Niles team.
“This is big,” he said. “We have had ups and downs. This is huge. We have been working for this moment forever. We were ready.”
Niles fell behind 7-0 to start the game before a Phillips 3-pointer got the Vikings on the scoreboard.
The Tigers (16-8) would get in early foul trouble, which would not only help the Vikings in the first half, but in the fourth quarter with the game on the line. Benton Harbor was whistled for its seventh personal four with 31.9 seconds remaining in the opening quarter, which meant the Vikings would be shooting free throws for the remainder of the first half.
Niles took advantage of that as it went 8-of-12 in the second quarter to cut its 15-11 deficit after one quarter down to 19-17 with three minutes to play in the first half.
Benton Harbor looked like it might spoil the night for the Vikings and extend the drought as it finished the opening 16 minutes of play on a 14-4 run to open up a 33-21 halftime advantage.
Niles regrouped at halftime and came out and took control of the contest in the third quarter behind the play of Phillips, Johnson and Chambliss. The trio combined for 14 of the Vikings’ 19 points in the quarter, which allowed Niles to cut the Tigers’ lead to 43-40 heading into the final eight minutes of play.
Chambliss would come up big in the second half and finished the game with 11 points and 11 rebounds. Johnson added 14 points before fouling out.
“He’s my guy,” Phillips said of Chambliss. “He hit some key free throws. He did everything, played defense and got some rebounds.”
Busby was also impressed with the play of Chambliss and the Vikings’ other post player Alec Lozada.
“They did a tremendous job rebounding tonight,” he said. “They have gotten progressively better as the season has progressed, not just around the rim scoring-wise, but with their defense. Ethan is more of a scoring presence around the rim, not that Alec can’t. Ethan has been a bit more consistent. He has a great second jump. Alec is really strong. I thought both of them did a tremendous job of being physical tonight.”
Benton Harbor was led by Grant Gondrezick’s 22 points, while Brian Gillespie added 17 points.
Niles heads to Vicksburg for the Division 2 Regional semifinals Monday night against Grand Rapids South Christian (21-3). The game is scheduled to tipoff at 5:30 p.m. Marshall and Hamilton will meet in the second semifinal at approximately 7 p.m. The winners advance to Wednesday’s championship game.
NILES 65, BENTON HARBOR 61
BENTON HARBOR 61
Grant Gondrezick 22, Damarien Bell 5, Brian Gillespie 17, Montell Hobbs 5, Josiah King 2, Antwan Callahan 4, Jaeden Meeks 3, Quantravion Word 6. TOTALS: 21-56 15-22 61
Jayson Johnson 14, Anthony Brady Jr. 5, Mike Phillips 31, Alec Lozada 2, Ethan Chambliss 11, Brayden Favors 2, Acie Kirtdoll 0. TOTALS 18-44 25-35 65
Benton Harbor 15 33 43 61
Nile 11 21 40 65
3-point baskets: Benton Harbor 4 (Gondrezick 2, Hobbs, Meeks), Niles 4 (Phillips 2, Johnson, Brady Jr.). Total fouls (fouled out): Benton Harbor 26 (Johnson, Hobbs, Gondrezick, Niles 21 (none). Technical foul: Benton Harbor (Word). Records: Benton Harbor 16-8, Niles 15-10