Clarkston’s Dan Fife is like most coaches — he constantly preaches for his team to take matters one game at a time. But it was almost impossible for him or anyone else to have that mantra in the months leading up to Monday’s Class A boys basketball regional semifinal against Macomb Dakota.
It was a foregone conclusion since district and regional pairings were announced before the season began that Clarkston and Dakota were on a collision course.
The moment finally arrived for the third straight playoff meeting between the two state title contenders before an overflow crowd at Grand Blanc High.
“Everybody has been talking about this game since the middle of summer,” Fife said.
The Clarkston fans left happier after the Wolves delivered a surprisingly lopsided 68-48 win over No. 5 Dakota, in the process clearing a major hurdle in its pursuit of the first state championship in school history.
Clarkston won the regional final two years ago against Dakota, 63-58, before losing in double overtime at Dakota last year, 68-66.
The biggest reason was junior point guard and Michigan State commit Foster Loyer, who made up for a subpar game in last year at Dakota by looking more like the player who scored 35 points against Dakota two years ago.
Loyer finished with a game-high 31 points, going 10 of 22 from the field, 4 of 9 on three-point attempts.
“We lost last year to them and we definitely didn’t want to have that feeling again,” Loyer said. “We came out with a little bit of a chip on our shoulder and were ready to play.”
Dakota’s downhill spiral started on the last play of the first quarter, when Loyer nailed a three-pointer just before the buzzer sounded to cut Dakota’s lead to 15-13.
That was last time Dakota led.
Clarkston (23-1) started the second quarter on a 10-0 run to take a 23-15 lead, which grew to 37-24 at halftime after Loyer again beat the buzzer with a backbreaking three-pointer.
Dakota (20-4) made a minor push in the fourth quarter, cutting Clarkston’s lead to 47-38 with 7:22 remaining.
But a three-pointer by Clarkston senior Dylan Alderson (Wisconsin-Milwaukee) and back-to-back three-pointers by Loyer comprised a 9-0 Clarkston run to give the Wolves a 56-38 lead with 5:04 and essentially deliver the knockout punch. Alderson scored 14 points to flank Loyer for Clarkston.
Senior Jermaine Jackson Jr. scored 13 of his 15 points in the first half to lead Dakota, a semifinalist last year that saw a 17-game winning streak snapped.
The game started 30 minutes late because Dakota’s bus got caught in a traffic jam following a major accident on I-75 roughly 20 miles south of Grand Blanc.
Dakota coach Paul Tocco said his wife was also involved in a minor accident on the way to the game. She was not injured.
“We were out of whack,” Tocco said. “The kids were worried on the bus. They were great here (at Grand Blanc). They held the start of the game. No excuses tonight. We didn’t play well.”