MIDDLEVILLE, MI — Between a 16-point second-half deficit and a tough night for its star player, not much went to plan for Grand Rapids Northview in the quarterfinal game of Basketball State- Tuesday’s Division 1 men’s ball with Kalamazoo Central.
But the ending couldn’t have been written better for the Wildcats, who outscored the Maroon Giants, 54-52, on a last-second 3-pointer from Vanderjagt, who hit the clutch kick while drawing a foul.
He missed the ensuing free throw, but with 1.8 seconds left, K-Central could only manage a half-court heave that sailed over the backboard.
“I knew I had to do it right away,” Vanderjagt said. “When I shot it was honestly very good, then they whistled too, so I knew I would have the chance to tie the game or win the game, and luckily it went in. C is just awesome.”
Northview’s final possession began with 13.8 seconds left, after K-Central senior Scott Hughes missed the lead in a 1-and-1 with his side leading 52-51.
Jalen Charity grabbed the rebound and brought the ball downfield, initiating the offense with a drive to the lane, then delivering it to Grant George at the 3-point line, before picking it up and returning a pass to Vanderjagt on the wing.
It wasn’t exactly what Northview manager David Chana had expected, but when the ball is in the hands of your best player in the dying seconds, good things tend to happen.
“We tried to make a set, and we didn’t get what we wanted initially, but we found Kyler in the corner, and that was a big hit from that kid; hell of a game,” Chana said.
Vanderjagt, Michigan’s 2022 Mr. Basketball finalist, finished with a team-high 17 points, including eight in the fourth quarter.
“He did a great job settling in and letting the game come to him, and I thought in the fourth quarter he was really tough,” Chana said of the 6-foot-4 senior guard. “I thought his biggest contributions were defensively and bouncing back in the second half.”
K-Central’s Hughes and fellow senior Thomas Dillard IV combined to make life difficult for Vanderjagt most of the night, holding him to one point in the first quarter and five points at halftime, all on the free throw line.
“You have to hurt him to even catch him,” K-Central coach Ramsey Nichols said of Vanderjagt’s defense. “You try to make sure he’s far enough away from the basket to keep working hard, and you just have to make his opportunities as difficult as possible.
“He’s a tough cover. He has a good size, good ball handling and is a very good shooter.
The Belmont University signee scored his first basket in the third quarter as part of Northview’s 13-0 run that cut their deficit to 38-35, after falling 16 points short of halftime. time.
Realizing he was in the middle of a night off, Vanderjagt relied on his teammates, rather than forcing the action against a K-Central defense that aimed to stop him.
“Now it’s time to get the teammates involved because obviously you won’t be able to have your A game every night, but we had some guys tonight – Jalen, Grant – great players,” Vanderjagt said. of his gait. “They all stepped up, and it’s my job to get involved, and when the time came, the time came, and luckily it did. It’s definitely a team sport, and they got together. pull yourself together.
Northview’s EJ Ryans finished with 11 points and delivered one of the biggest buckets of the night on a Vanderjagt airball, no less, when Charity landed the missed shot then passed it to his sophomore teammate for a disputed layup top of the glass that made it a 52-51 game with 40 seconds left.
On the ensuing K-Central possession, the Wildcats’ all-court press forced senior Rico Smith Shepard to step onto the sideline while advancing the ball, giving it back to Northview with 35 seconds left.
The Maroon Giants forced Vanderjagt into a tough layup, and 5-foot-9 senior guard Cameron Moore made a one-on-one play to tip the loose rebound past Scott Hughes, who pushed the ball over the pitch and gutted the time to 13.8 seconds before being fouled.
Hughes missed that front end to set up Vanderjagt’s winner, but the K-Central ground general went 4 for 4 on the foul line in the fourth quarter before that, including a pair of free throws that went put his team ahead 52-49 with 54 seconds remaining.
Hughes led K-Central with 17 points, although he left the game late in the third quarter after hitting hard on the field after a field goal drive. He came back with 5:48 left and quickly headed for the basket and took another hard fall, but stayed in the game and calmly sank two free throws that gave the Maroon Giants a 48- 42.
“Scott is a tough kid, and he left it all on the floor,” Nichols said. “I can’t say enough about the career he had at Kalamazoo Central. Three great years playing here, and he’s done a lot for the program and for himself.
K-Central increased their lead to 50-42 with 2:10 to go after junior Terrance Jones executed a fine drive a dish to Dillard for a layup, but Northview showed they still had a comeback left in the tank.
Northview trailed until the final two seconds of the game, trailing 13-4 after the first quarter and 34-20 at halftime.
Closing a 14-point deficit against a K-Central-caliber defense wouldn’t be an easy task, but Chana challenged his guys to give Northview’s boisterous cheer squad something to hold onto.
“(At halftime) we talked about strategy stuff, and at the end the message was, ‘This is not the memory we wanted our community to see. We’re better than this, so let’s play. like we were better than that,’ and the kids did it,” he said.
Along with Vanderjagt’s big buckets in the second half, Charity scored 10 of his 16 after the break.
With the win, Northview (25-1) advances to its second state semifinal in program history and first since 1990, and the Wildcats will face Warren De La Salle (18-7), who also beat their opponent in the quarterfinals at the buzzer.
The tipoff for this Breslin Center battle is scheduled for noon Friday.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to be able to take our team there, and that’s exactly what we’re doing,” Vanderjagt said after reaching the East Lansing venue. “We haven’t finished. We’ll also be trying to get a ring, so we’re good to go.
Northview never made it to a state championship game, but before looking ahead, Chana wanted to congratulate K-Central for giving his team everything they could handle and being a part of it. unforgettable game in front of a packed crowd at Thornapple Kellogg High School.
“I want to congratulate Kalamazoo Central on their run,” he said. “They’re a hell of a team with great kids, tough kids, and they’re very well coached and an amazing program, and I think we’re all very lucky to be a part of this game.”
For K-Central (16-8), memories will sting for a while, but as one of two unranked teams to reach the Division 1 quarter-finals, the Maroon Giants proved a lot of people wrong. on their playoff abilities.
“I couldn’t be prouder of this band,” said Nichols. “It was a fun group, and it was a great ride. No one expected us to be there, and just getting things done and even having the chance to go to Breslin was exciting in itself, but I couldn’t be more proud of this group. They have nothing to reproach themselves for. »
The Maroon Giants are releasing eight seniors from their roster, including starters Hughes, Dillard (15 points against Northview), Smith-Shepard (2) and Martell Underwood (2) and key reserves Jahlin Banks-Jennings (4) and Cameron Moore ( 3 ).
Although they lacked the star power of an Isaiah Livers, who led K-Central to their last state quarterfinal appearance, the current crop put in more than enough effort to make up for it. that.
“They’ve worked extremely hard the last two or three years,” Nichols said. “During the offseason, we had a lot of fun going to the gym with them two or three times a week and the weight room. We prepared just for this moment, and it’s heartbreaking that it ended like this, but it was a great race.
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