Division 3: Beecher’s Lee Jr. score 29 in win over St. Francis
Published 9:24 am Sunday, March 26, 2023
By DEAN HOLZWARTH
Special for MHSAA.com
EAST LANSING — Robert Lee Jr. didn’t mind shouldering the scoring load in Saturday’s Division 3 Final.
Especially with a championship at stake.
The Flint Beecher senior guard scored a game-high 29 points to lead Flint Beecher past Traverse City St. Francis 64-50 at the Breslin Center.
“Before the game I got up some shots at a high school, and usually when I do that I feel good,” Lee Jr. said. “I felt like I had to step up for my team. I did my part, and my teammates did their part. We won it together.”
It was Beecher’s second Finals title in three years and sixth since 2012. The Bucs lost in the Semifinals last year and were eager to return and reclaim the championship.
“Last year I brought my team up here and it was tears of hurt and disappointment, and that’s something we talked about not just tonight, but all season long,” said Beecher coach Marquise Gray. “I constantly reminded the guys of that feeling and I think it drove us, and we are fortunate and blessed to come away with a title tonight.”
The 6-foot-2 Lee Jr. scored 18 his 29 in the second half. He was 12-of-19 from the field and also grabbed 11 rebounds.
The Bucs’ Keyonta Menifield (2) finds his way to the basket with Drew Breimayer (3) and John Hagelstein (23) defending.
“I couldn’t score that many points without my teammates,” said Lee Jr., who also was part of a Division 3 title team as a sophomore. “It feels good … and spring break is going to feel a lot better, and food is going to taste better.”
Beecher (24-4) blitzed St. Francis early and led 8-0 after the first three minutes. The opening run included a pair of layups and an emphatic dunk by Lee Jr.
However, the Gladiators fought back and ended the quarter on a 7-0 run. Senior Wyatt Nausadis drilled a long 3-pointer at the buzzer to give St. Francis a 17-15 lead.
The Gladiators carried the momentum into the second quarter and built a 28-21 lead. But defense helped bring Beecher closer as it scored the last four points of the half and trailed 30-27.
Lee Jr. helped Beecher reclaim the lead (35-32) with back-to-back buckets. He then had a three-point play and mid-range jumper to make it 42-34 — and a steal and layup to push the lead to 10. A 3-pointer from Wasir James in the final minute of the quarter gave Beecher its biggest lead (47-35) of the game.
Lee Jr. then added 13 points in the third quarter as Beecher outscored the Gladiators 20-7.
Kevin Tiggs Jr. elevates for a shot as Hagelstein and Joey Donahue (13) look to block it.
“Both of my calves started cramping up (at the end of the third quarter),” Lee Jr. said. “I tried to do whatever I could to prevent it, but I had to fight through it. When we got the win, I knew it was going to feel good.”
In the fourth quarter, St. Francis got to within five (47-42), but a Lee Jr. 3-pointer ignited a 7-0 surge that put the game out of reach.
Lee Jr. was the only Beecher player in double figures. Senior Jaylen Townsend had nine points and five rebounds, while senior Kevin Tiggs Jr. had eight points.
The Bucs shot 50 percent (26-52) from the field and recorded nine steals.
“We talked all year about seizing the moment, and tonight I think we did a great job of that,” Gray said. “Our road wasn’t easy, but we continued to believe.”
St. Francis (24-4) was seeking its first Finals championship. Its best finish was Class C runner-up in 2012.
“That’s a good team, and we battled well,” said Gladiators coach Sean Finnegan. “We had a good first half and put ourselves in position, but they made a couple runs in the second half and we struggled to finish a little bit at times. But I can’t say how proud I am of the boys and the fact that we’re here and had the opportunity we had.”
Nausadis finished with a team-high 20 points, while senior center John Hagelstein added 12 points and seven rebounds. Senior Drew Breimayer had nine points.