It was clear early on that River Rouge wasn’t going to score 70 points – which they scored in their previous two victories. It became even clearer when the Panthers headed to the locker room at halftime with just 14 points.
The good news was that River Rouge’s opponent in this Division 1 State Quarterfinal playoff game, Ann Arbor Huron, wasn’t exactly lighting it up at the other end.
The Panthers led 9-8 after one quarter and the River Rats led 29-24 at halftime in a game featuring two teams that know how to play defense. Huron came out and “made a few more plays” than Rouge in the second half and that was the difference as the River Rats remained undefeated on the season with a 44-34 victory over the talented Panthers on Tuesday night at Ypsilanti Lincoln High School.
Huron (19-0) advances to the state semifinals where the River Rats will face Warren De La Salle, who knocked off Macomb Dakota 68-33 on Tuesday night. That semifinal game begins at 3 p.m. on Thursday, April 8 at the MSU Breslin Center in East Lansing.
The other side of the bracket features Grand Rapids Forest Hills vs. Grand Blanc.
The finals are at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 10 at the Breslin Center.
River Rouge finishes the season with a 11-4 record and District and Regional titles.
“We did a few more things than they did and that was the difference in the game,” said Huron Head Coach Waleed Samaha. “Both teams played great defense and we expected a low-scoring game because they also play good defense. It was like a heavyweight fight with both teams throwing body punches all night. We just made a few more plays in that second half and were able to come out with the win.”
Huron is not a zone-defense team – they play tough man-to-man – but against River Rouge they threw some zone into the mix to try and keep the Panthers off balance.
“We played about a quarter and a half of zone tonight and maybe played zone 10 possessions before tonight,” Samaha said.
Huron’s relentless defense was on display all night. Tyson Edmondson did an “outstanding” job defending River Rouge’s Keyshawn Delvin, who still finished with 10 points but was held scoreless in the second half.
They also did a great job on the great Legend Geeter, a dynamic offensive player for the Panthers.
“We had a plan for Geeter,” Samaha said. “You can’t let him play in a comfort zone, if you do, you’re going home. He’s that good. We wanted to make him a passer and not a shooter. He’s a smart kid and was able to find the right guys but we did a good job on him all night.”
Geeter finished with five points, all in the fourth quarter after Huron had built a comfortable lead.
Senior DeOvion Price led the Panthers with 12 points, including nine in an impressive third quarter. Junior Jalen Holly scored five points for River Rouge.
Julian Lewis had a huge night for the River Rats. Lewis finished with 18 points including 13 in the second half. Edmondson finished with nine points, Brandon Rawls scored eight and Devin Womack scored six for the River Rats.
Holly scored on a layup to give Rouge an early 9-5 lead before Huron’s Rawls knocked down a triple to cut the Panthers’ lead to 9-8 after one quarter.
The second quarter was a one possession difference the whole way. A jumper by Delvin gave Rouge a 14-11 lead but Rawls drive to the basket and bucket cut it to 14-13. Edmondson hit a runner to give Huron a 15-14 lead with 2:40 left and then he scored inside to give Huron a 17-14 halftime lead.
The River Rats came out strong in the third quarter. Kingsley Perkins scored inside to give Huron a 22-16 lead with 6:15 in the quarter. Lewis hit a triple to make it 25-16 with 4:15 left. But Price knocked down a three-pointer to cut the deficit to 25-19. A dunk by Lewis pushed Huron in front 29-21 with 1:15 left in the quarter.
The River Rats took a 29-24 lead into the fourth quarter.
And this is where Lewis took over. He hit a jumper and then a triple to make it 34-24 with 4:50 to play. The River Rats slowed things down and killed a lot of clock and hit enough free throws to keep the Panthers from getting back into the game down the stretch.
After winning District 18 at Lincoln, the River Rats had easy wins over Dexter (56-33) and Livonia Stevenson (64-39) to win Regional 5 at Northville.
River Rouge also had a somewhat easy road to the quarterfinals. After winning District 24, the Panthers knocked off Dearborn Divine Child (70-48) and Riverview (70-52) to win Region 6 at Ecorse.