Big Reds advance to state semifinals for the first time since 1937

26-0 Muskegon is the lone remaining undefeated team in the entire MHSAA state boys basketball tournament

By Mark Lewis
Local Sports Journal

LANSING – Sure, the Muskegon Big Red boys basketball team has a Mr. Basketball winner in senior guard Deshaun Thrower.

But Tuesday night at Lansing Eastern High School, those same Big Reds didn’t necessarily need him to score all that much.

Juniors Deyonta Davis and Joeviair Kennedy combined for 52 points (on 24-of-28 shooting)  in the 73-57 quarterfinal win over Ann Arbor Skyline, and helped propel the Big Reds to Friday’s state semifinal game at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center to face Mt. Pleasant (22-4) for the right to play for the Class A state title.

It is the first time Muskegon (26-0) has advanced past the state quarterfinals since 1937.

For Muskegon’s coaches and players alike, it is a huge honor to get the Big Reds back to the semifinals in over 70 years.

“It means a whole lot for us to be the team to do it,” said starting Big Red point guard William Roberson. “We knew coming into this season that, once we got rolling, we would be hard to stop. Now it’s all about keeping it rolling.”

“It feels so good, man,” said Kennedy. “All those teams that never made it, and here we are the ones to finally do it. It’s huge for this team and for this school.”

Skyline tried in vain to stay with the Big Reds, with Muskegon racing out to the 11-2 lead. Muskegon went on to hit  eight of its first 10 shots to lead 22-12 after one. Kennedy scored nine and  Roberson poured in seven more in the frame to get their team off to a fast start.Guy said that will be critical from here on out.

“We thought tonight was about starting fast,” said Guy. “We had to get out of the block fast because (Skyline) came in with a lot of confidence. If we had given away that first quarter, we would’ve probably been in a dogfight. But our guys understood my sense of urgency.”

Thrower, who experienced a whirlwind couple of days after winning the state’s coveted Mr. Basketball award, didn’t force his game versus Skyline, finishing with six points, preferring instead to get his teammates into the act.

Despite scoring 15-points less than his season per-game average, Thrower still did plenty, dishing out 10 assists in the win.

“I don’t think it was him having a Mr. Basketball hangover,” said Guy. “I thought he took what was given to him. His teammates had it going, so he played a facilitating role and sat in the background a little bit. That’s why he is who he is.”

“Some nights I might not have it going offensively,” said Thrower. “My teammates always seem to pick me up. We have a lot of people who can bring it when I don’t have my offense going. Whatever it takes – rebounds, passing, defense – to keep this team going.”

It was Kennedy who kept the Big Reds’ train going in the second, putting up 10 points while the Skyline defense blanketed Thrower and Davis.

“Kennedy was huge,” said Guy. “Everybody comes in thinking about Deshaun, everybody thinks it’s about Davis. They forget about Hip Hop.”

Kennedy, who made it to the Breslin his freshman year as a member of Guy’s Muskegon Heights team (as did Thrower twice, as a freshman and sophomore)  earned the Hip Hop moniker because, as a toddler, he hopped around instead of walking.

But it wasn’t all Hip Hop.

Roberson ended the half with a beautiful teardrop shot that snapped the net as the buzzer sounded.

Muskegon led 38-21 at the break.

“We felt like we needed to come out hard,” said Roberson. “If we did that, we felt like this could be a blowout.”

Then it was time for the Deyonta Davis show.

Davis was simply spectacular in the second half, displaying his vast array of scoring skills he is only now realizing. He scored just about every way possible, including nothing-but-net eight-footers, put-backs off the glass, and, of course, a series of dunks that nearly brought down the house. In one two minute sequence, he had three dunks and two blocks, finishing with seven blocks, six coming in the second half.

“He gets better and better every game,” said Guy of his junior center who has already committed to Michigan State University. “That’s the scary part; we haven’t seen his best yet. You would have thought we got a different player. Deyonta has made that big of an improvement. He’s a totally different player from last year. He is one of the main reasons we are heading to the final four.”

Leading by as much as 30 points in the fourth, Guy pulled his starters up 70-42 with three minutes remaining. The Big Red’s starting five finished with just seven turnovers and shooting 60 percent (31-of-52) from the field, all while holding the Skyline starters to 35 percent shooting (17-of-49), with just one player, junior Jonathon Muir-Cotton, scoring in double figures with 13 points.

“Our guys play well together,” said Guy. “This was a big moment for them and they didn’t blink. They played great tonight.

“Words can’t express (going to the Breslin Center),” Guy added. “But we can’t just get there. We are on a mission. Hopefully we take care of business and bring home a state championship to Muskegon.”

Muskegon will take on Mt. Pleasant at Friday’s semifinal game.

The contest is set to tip off at 1 p.m.

The other semifinal game, between Detroit U-D Jesuit (22-2) and Bloomfield Hills (23-3), is set to begin at 2:50 p.m.

Winners from both games will face off for the state title Saturday at noon.