By KEITH SHELTON
For The Daily News
MARQUETTE – The shot was up, and there was no doubt about that, but in which order did the following events occur? The whistle, the buzzer, the potential tying basket.
That will likely be debated for some time, but all that matters is the result.
Freshman guard Jason Whitens was sent to the line with zeroes on the clock, North Central down two points, to take the first shot of a 1-on-1, by himself.
Inevitably the free throw didn’t fall and the Cedarville Trojans stormed the court in jubilation having knocked off the undefeated Jets 81-79, Tuesday night in this Class D state quarterfinal.
“He’s stepped up for us in big game situations,” said North Central head coach Adam Mercier. “He wants to be in this position again, the next time the ball goes up. Jason will bounce back. He’ll have a moment to do the same thing the next time out. I’ll take him over any freshman in the U.P.
“Next time it happens, you’ll see different results.” The game, however, was likely lost before that fateful free throw.
The Jets allowed a slim lead in the fourth quarter to evaporate on some untimely turnovers and fouls down the stretch that put Cedarville players on the line, of which they made 7-of-8 down the stretch.
In a furious final minute of action, Rob Granquist hit a clutch three-pointer from the left. Cedarville’s Joey Duncan made both free throws, the Jets flung it to Travis Vincent who hit a layup to tie the game at 79 with 15 seconds to go. Brad Causley was then fouled and sent to the line, where he made both foul shots. With seconds on the clock and the Trojans pressuring, Rob Granquist launched a long three-point attempt from well beyond the arc, that missed. Whitens grabbed the rebound and got it to Vincent, who also missed. The Jets got another rebound and bounced it back out to Whitens who put up a shot with one second on the clock. The shot went in, and then there was discussion.
“They told me that they called it on the ground, that he was tied up,” said Mercier. “I got together with them but I couldn’t overrule that. That was their call. We’ve been on the good side, we’ve been on the bad side, and things happen in the game of basketball.
“I don’t think those two points would have cost us the game anyway.”
What did cost North Central was a slow start defensively.
The Trojans came out guns blazing and they shot the lights out with a 30 point first quarter, rushing out to a 30-15 lead before Vincent hit a triple to make it 30-18 going into the second.
“We came out very flat defensively and they took it right to us,” said Mercier. “We had some possessions in that stretch, we had some key turnovers, and that cost us the game in the end. Missed free throws aren’t going to cost us.”
Cedarville’s deadly duo of Joey Duncan and Dan Stenback took the Jets to task. Duncan always had a big triple ready, and at one point, two in a row, to boost his team when they needed it. He hit five from deep en route to a career high-tying 34 point effort.
“I was just trying to put my team in position to win the game, and I tried to make plays whenever I had the opportunity,” said Duncan. “The ball fell our way tonight, and it’s a blessing.”
Of going to the Breslin Center, Duncan said, “It’s great, it’s something I’ve dreamed about since fourth grade. I’ve seen my brothers do it, from the bench, but there’s no better feeling than this.”
Stenback was a beast on the boards, drawing lots of fouls, hitting putbacks and even hitting shots from the perimeter. He also scored 34 points.
“Joey Duncan and the Stenback boy, they didn’t miss,” said Mercier. “Stenback had 25 points in the first half and I can’t say enough about their performance. We didn’t have an answer for Duncan. We had three different guys guarding him and we couldn’t guard him. They played well tonight.”
North Central drew within 46-41 at the half, and came out of the break on fire.
Vincent quickly hit a layup and drew the foul, followed by a Whitens jumper. After a Trojans free throw, Rob Granquist tied it up on a lay-in. But the Jets weren’t done. Vincent put North Central ahead for the first time since the first possession of the game, followed by two Granquist free throws and another bucket from Vincent. The 13-1 run pushed North Central ahead 53-47 and was capped off by Cedarville’s Caleb Williams picking up his fourth foul. The Jets (25-1) had four players in double figures, led by Vincent’s 23. Whitens added 20, Rob Granquist scored 18 and Trevor Ekberg put in 10.
But the Trojans eventually battled back and after Duncan hit consecutive three-pointers later in the quarter, the score was tied at 60.
“It was a really wild game, and we’re playing for a lot more than the quarterfinals,” Duncan said. “They’re a great team. It was a crazy end, and there were a lot of people here, and I think they got their money’s worth tonight.”
Cedarville (23-2) will take on Adrian Lenawee Christian in the state semifinal at Michigan State’s Breslin Center in East Lansing, Thursday night.
N. Central 18 23 21 17 – 79
Cedarville 30 16 16 19 – 81
North Central – R. Granquist 18, J. Granquist 4, Vincent 23, Whitens 20, Martin 4, Ekberg 10; FT: 9-16; F: 23; Fouled out: None; 3-point field goals: R. Granquist, Vincent.
Cedarville – Causley 10, Williams 3, Duncan 34, Stenback 34; FT: 20-30; F: 16; Fouled out: none; 3-point field goals: Duncan 5, Stenback 2.