Following their impressive 44-34 win over River Rouge in a state quarterfinal game on Tuesday, one of the Huron assistant coaches stood up before the team in the locker room and rattled off the River Rats goals for this season.
SEC title – check.
District title – check.
Regional title – check.
Final Four – check.
The coach then said, “let’s go to the Breslin Center and finish this thing.” And the room exploded into cheers.
There is only one goal left for Huron – to win the whole thing. And don’t think for one second that winning a stale title wasn’t at the top of their to-do list.
Huron (19-0) advanced 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.
“This is a resilient group and we’ve overcome every obstacle and challenge that has come our way,” said Huron Head Coach Waleed Samaha said after Tuesday’s big win. “We have an unbelievable group of kids and so (did River Rouge). Every team that played this year had to deal with these challenges. We feel more blessed than anything.”
Huron was on a path to big things last season when the season got shut down in March because of the pandemic. Samaha says from day one they have talked about this year being a continuation of last season.
“We took basically 11 months off and didn’t get back into the gym until late January,” he said. “Eleven months that we weren’t allowed in our gym. For these guys to do what they’ve done is unbelievable. I’m just so proud of them.”
And defense has been the River Rats’ calling card and identity all season.
“You see teams at all levels playing good defense,” Samaha says. “Even in the NBA when the playoffs start teams really turn it up defensively. And (Monday) night (in the NCAA Finals) you saw Baylor play really good defense. Kids have a lot of examples of how important good defense is. We have been playing good defense for the last few years and our offense is starting to catch up. We were just fortunate (Tuesday) that we made a few more plays than they did.”
Julian Lewis came up huge in the fourth quarter with the game still hanging in the balance. He finished with a game-high 18 points, including 13 in the second half and eight in the final quarter.
Lewis was obviously proud of Huron’s resiliency to never back down.
“This really means a lot,” Lewis said after the win over River Rouge. “We’ve worked really hard for this. We got cut short last year but we just kept working to get this far. Now we want to go win a championship.”
Lewis and the River Rats didn’t exactly light things up in the first half but they kept doing what they’ve been doing all year – playing great defense and waiting for the offense to show up.
“We try to forget about things that don’t go our way and have a next-play mentality,” Lewis said. “I just kept shooting it and they started to fall.”
Just like their goals for this season – they started to fall last month and haven’t stopped falling. And there is only one goal left – “so let’s go finish this thing.”