By Jason Goorman
MUSKEGON – The 2015 Class A state basketball tournament is shaping up in a familiar way for the Muskegon Big Reds.
They won their two district games and the regional opener handily, then once again struggled before beating a scrappy Hudsonville team in four overtimes in Friday’s regional final.
Last year the Big Reds only beat Hudsonville by six points before rolling to a state title. Surely some Muskegon fans are hoping the rest of this year’s tournament turns out the same way.
But there are real challenges ahead, starting in the state quarterfinals Tuesday at Lansing Eastern High School against a very good Lansing Everett squad.
Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m. The winner will advance to Friday’s state semifinals at Michigan State University against the winner of the Saginaw Arthur Hill/Walled Lake Central quarterfinal.
The state championship game will be Saturday.
If Lansing Everett sounds familiar, there’s a very good reason for that. The school is the alma mater of basketball Hall of Famer Earvin “Magic” Johnson.
The Vikings were not on the radar last season, winning only five games. But they bounced back in a big way this season, posting a 23-2 record.
The turnaround has largely been due to the presence of 6-10 forward Trevor Manuel, a Mr. Basketball award finalist who averages around 23 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks per game.
Manuel transferred to Everett this season after spending a year at a prep school.
Muskegon Coach Keith Guy knows it will take a good performance to get past Manuel and his teammates.
“They’re athletic, they’re quick and they have some shooters,” Guy said. “They have one 6-10 guy and he can play. We’re going to have to be ready Tuesday night.”
Of course Muskegon (23-1) has the Mr. Basketball – Deyonta Davis – who won the statewide award as Michigan’s top senior player Monday afternoon. The dynamic 6-10 post player is averaging 19 points, 17 rebounds and seven blocks per game.
The Davis-Manuel showdown will be the focus of attention going into Tuesday’s game, but as Guy has discovered throughout the tournament, he has a lot more weapons than Davis.
That became increasingly obvious in the regional final against Hudsonville. Davis had a tough game, scoring only four points and fouling out in the fourth quarter.
But a lot of other players stepped up, starting with All-State candidate Joeviair Kennedy, who pumped in 27 points.
Then there was Michael Littlejohn, who put Muskegon in control of the marathon game by scoring the first eight points of the fourth overtime. His effort helped the Big Reds gain a 17-7 edge in the final OT and win by 10 points.
Littlejohn finished with 16 points.
“Littlejohn was huge,” said Guy, whose team has beaten Mona Shores, Grand Haven, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central and Hudsonville in the tournament. “He’s been that way the entire postseason.”
The coach also credited Jamal French, Ja’marie Collins, Daryl Kirkland and Blake Andrews for making key plays offensively and defensively against Hudsonville.
“Deyonta only played 17 minutes of the game, and it showed everybody we’re not a one trick pony,” Guy said. “We have a lot of guys who can do things. There are some guys who don’t show up on the stat sheet that step up, too.
”I don’t think there was one guy who thought losing was an option. We just fought and fought until we got out with what we wanted, a win. It took us longer to accomplish it but this time of year anyone is capable of winning and you just hope you make more plays than your opponent.”