Big second-quarter propels Brandywine past Covenant Christian, back to Final Four

Published 8:21 am Wednesday, March 13, 2024

KALAMAZOO — A 26-point explosion in the second-quarter powered the Brandywine boys’ basketball team past Grand Rapids Covenant Christian 58-34 in Tuesday’s Division 3 state quarterfinals at Kalamazoo Loy Norrix.

Brandywine (24-3) will face No. 6 McBain (25-2) in Thursday’s first semifinal at Michigan State’s Jack Breslin Center at noon. The second contest pits Detroit Old Redford (20-7) against Riverview Gabriel Richard (23-3) at 2 p.m. The winners advance to Saturday’s 4 p.m. state championship.

Both Brandywine and Riverview Gabriel Richard tied for the No. 3 spot in the final Michigan Associated Press state rankings.

It will be the second consecutive Final Four appearance for Nathan Knapp’s Brandywine squad, which lost in last year’s semifinals to Traverse City St. Francis 46-36.

Knapp stated Brandywine’s stellar defense and tight team bond are two of the main reasons the Bobcats have achieved its goal of getting back to East Lansing with a shot to compete for the state crown.

“I’m so proud of every one of our kids. They’ve worked so hard from day one with a target on their back, but they have stayed focused and determined in reaching a very difficult goal of getting back to the Breslin Center,” Knapp said.

Brandywine served notice from the opening tip that its extreme quickness would play a pivotal difference against Covenant Christian (18-9) on both ends of the floor.

“We knew we were a bit quicker than they were, but we didn’t get to put as much pressure on them in our press as we wanted to. You could feel the effects of it at the start, though, because they couldn’t get the ball up the court and were turning it over,” Knapp said.

The Bobcats were successful putting the defensive clamps on a Chargers’ squad that came in averaging 67 points per game.

“Brandywine was the better basketball team tonight and probably the favorite to win in my opinion. They are so well-balanced and very aggressive on the defensive end. I’m happy for their coach, players and community. They should be very proud of themselves,” said Covenant Christian’s head coach Tyler Schimmel.

“This wasn’t our best night at all shooting the basketball. We normally shoot 39 percent or better from three-point range. In the second quarter, we turned the ball over and Brandywine made us pay for it because they are so good in their transition game.”

Brandywine scored six of the game’s first nine points. Jaremiah Palmer hit two free-throw tosses, Byron Linley scored off a backdoor cut and Jamier Palmer converted a layup providing the Bobcats with an early 6-3 lead.

The Bobcats settled for a slim 9-7 advantage after one quarter. Sophomore guard Nylen Goins drained a triple from the wing and extended his team’s lead to six. Covenant Christian scored the last two buckets of the period, though, to pull within two points.

Brandywine used its outside shooting, close-range jumpers and inside scoring to score 26 second-quarter points and pull in front of the Chargers 35-13 at halftime.

“Our plan was to attack the basket a lot in the second quarter and we wanted to get out and run more too. We are a very tough team to defend when we are attacking well,” Knapp said.

“With Byron, Nylen and Jaremiah shooting the ball from outside it helps us spread the floor and Jaytee had a big game inside for us. Brock Dye did a nice job of defending their big guy (Ben Elzinga) too. I thought our team did a much better job of boxing out tonight as well.”

Jaremiah Palmer scored six points in the second quarter for Brandywine. Goins and Linley each added triples and Jaytee Smith scored all eight of his points during that span, including a thunderous dunk that brought the crowd to its feet.

Eight of Brandywine’s 10 points scored in the third quarter came off layups. Getting key buckets for the Bobcats in the quarter were Whiting, Jaremiah Palmer, Jamier Palmer, Whiting and Linley. Jaremiah Palmer and Jamier Palmer both hit a free throw each as the Bobcats built their lead to 45-24 heading into the fourth quarter.

Covenant Christian pulled within 15 points twice in the fourth quarter thanks to a pair of key three pointers by Carter Scholten and Brett Cammenga.

Brandywine’s 9-2 run in the final 2:30 of the game helped seal the win. Whiting hit a layup and two free throws, Goins and Jamier Palmer scored inside and Jamier Palmer added two free throws to cap the Bobcats’ scoring.

Goins ended the night as Brandywine’s top scorer with 15 points, while Jaremiah Palmer and Whiting produced 11 each and Linley scored seven for the Bobcats, who made 22-of-48 (45.9 percent) shots from the floor and drained 11-of-17 (64.7) charity tosses.

“Our kids love to play great team defense and we play it very well. Robert was our spark off the bench tonight. He’s our ‘Little Dog’ and he’s a leader. No one on this team cares who gets the points though and they have such a tight-knit bond,” Knapp said.

Brandywine won the rebounding battle against Covenant Christian 25-22.

Smith and Jamier Palmer both pulled down six rebounds apiece to lead Brandywine while Goins added five.

“I really just take pride in defense. I could care less about offense or how many points I score. I had a big role tonight to try and take their big guy (Elzinga) out of the game,” Smith said.

“Our big games that we played against teams like Portage Central, Kalamazoo Loy-Norrix and Benton Harbor really helped us become more disciplined on defensively.”

Jaremiah Palmer also had four assists, while Brock Dye, Jamier Palmer and Linley all had three steals apiece.

Whiting agreed that defense played a big key in the outcome.

“This feels great to be going back to the Breslin Center. We love defense. That’s about all we work on in practice. We don’t worry about offense. I love being the little pit bull by doing the dirty work for this team,” Whiting said.

Brandywine committed 16 turnovers to 19 for Covenant Christian.

Scholten poured in 18 points to lead Covenant Christian, which made 11-of-52 (21.1 percent) field goal attempts and 5-of-9 free-throw (55.5 percent) tries. Cammenga and Mike DeVries added six points each for the Chargers.

Leading rebounder for Covenant Christian was Elzinga, a 6-foot-6 junior, with nine

“Our game plan was to get their big guy running up and down the floor and tire them out. We also wanted to get our bigs and guards to get out and go as well,” Knapp said.

Knapp believes the experience of last year’s Final Four run will be a big benefit this time.

“These kids know what they have to do on Thursday to take that next step. All of them really want this. It’s their dream and they are ready,” Knapp said.