Vikings top Berrien to reach title game

Published 5:28 pm Thursday, February 29, 2024

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EDWARDSBURG — With a once double-digit lead whittled down to just five points in the final quarter of the Niles boys basketball team’s Division 2 District semifinal against Berrien Springs, Michael Phillips took over. He scored a game-high 27 points – including 12 in the fourth quarter  – to help lift the Vikings to a 59-50 win.

“(Head coach Myles Busby) told me to take it over,” Phillips said. “He told me to do what I’m supposed to do, what I should be doing and that’s what we did.”

I’ve said it for the last two years – he’s the best player in this area,” Busby said. You’ve seen it Monday, you’ve seen it last year, you see it earlier, he’s the best player in this area and it’s not even close. The way he dominates the game, the way he draws so much attention and hits tough shots as well. We’re gonna miss him next year. Players like that don’t come around very often.”

Leading 48-43 late in the fourth, the Vikings went back to Phillips, who was fouled after making a driving layup and made the free throw to ice the game for Niles, which led 27-21 at halftime and 39-31 after three quarters.

“We did great,” he said. “This is a great team we have right here. We came and handled business. We knew we were going to do this in the first place, so it was a great game.”

“Great game, great environment,” Busby said. “We knew we would get their best — they’re a well-coached team. Greg does a really good job of getting them to play hard and play physical. They don’t try to do anything that they’re not capable of doing – they rebound the ball very well offensively and defensively. This time of year, you survive and advance. Great effort from us and very proud of our guys for answering the call and fighting through adversity.”

Down the stretch, Phillips said his mentality was “to take over the game.”

The game was a matchup featuring two of the area’s best players in Niles’ Phillips and Berrien Springs’ Frakes, who led the Shamrocks with 22 points, including two highlight reel dunks. For Phillips, matchups against players like Frakes bring out the best in him.

“When he hits a tough shot, it makes me want to go try and get my own,” he said. “It just fuels me to go get mine. It’s fun.”

Brayden Favors scored 12 points for Niles and made Frakes work for his points as his primary defender.

“Brayden is a really good defender,” Busby said. “He’s a really good defender, very underrated. It got chippy in the first half. You want best-on-best. You don’t want to hide your guy and try to gimmick anything up. Brayden did a really good job of making it tough on him. JJ’s a really good player; He was making some tough shots, you have to live with that. So Brayden did a good job of keeping his composure even when it got chippy early on and even when he hit those shots, so overall I’m proud of him. 

“He didn’t do anything that we didn’t know he was capable of doing, so he’s a really good player with a lot of upside.”

Senior Ethan Chambliss scored 14 points for the Vikings and also chipped in key offensive rebounds and timely blocks.

“Ethan to his credit did a really good job making himself available underneath,” Busby said. “He put himself in position to be successful where if a shot didn’t go in, obviously he was getting his hands on the basketball for a second chance opportunity. He left a few plays out there underneath but he did a really good job of making them when we needed them.”

With a win in hand, the Vikings move on to face Benton Harbor at 7 p.m. Friday in the district finals.

The two teams faced off last week in a 47-45 Tigers victory at Benton Harbor. The Vikings are hoping to repeat as district champions after last year’s 65-61 win over the Tigers.

“I wouldn’t wouldn’t want it any other way,” he said. “The guys in the locker room wouldn’t want it any other way, either. They want us just like we want them… We’re the two best teams in the area, so let’s go after it and see who wins.”

Busby said Phillips is close to surpassing 1,000 career points and hopes he can reach that milestone this postseason.

“If we can keep this thing going for him. This is just a privilege to coach a player like him. I’m  very thankful and love him to death.”