EAST LANSING – Powers North Central welcomed all challengers the past three years.
Each time, the Jets came away with the victory.
North Central continued its Class D dominance, holding off a late rally from Buckley to win Saturday’s final, 78-69, at the Breslin Center.
The top-ranked Jets (28-0), who won their third consecutive state title, extended their nation-best win streak to 83. This year’s senior class, led by Mr. Basketball finalist Jason Whitens, finished with a 108-1 career record.
“I welcome it. We all do,” Whitens said of having a target on his team’s back. “We’re the most competitive people you’re ever going to meet. We want that competition. We love it. We invite it.”
Senior guard Dawson Bilski finished with 25 points, including 18 in the first quarter, as North Central raced to a 38-20 lead. Whitens added 23 points and six rebounds.
“If we score 38 points in a quarter, typically teams roll over,” said Jets coach Adam Mercier. “That didn’t happen. That’s a credit to those Buckley kids. We had to fight tooth and nail in the fourth quarter.”
The Bears (26-1) cut North Central’s lead to 68-65 after Ridge Beeman’s lay-up with 2:40 left. However, the Jets answered with a 6-0 run, capped by Whitens’ consecutive jumpers, to regain control.
“It’s been a blessing,” Whitens said of his high school career. “It’s a bond that will never be broken.”
Buckley, which trailed 54-40 at halftime, tried to fight back in the third quarter, but shot 4-for-12 in the period.
Junior forward Denver Cade finished with 25 points and seven rebounds for the Bears, and junior center Austin Harris added 22 points and nine rebounds.
“We made a run at them in the third quarter, and we missed some lay-ups,” Buckley coach Blair Moss said. “If we make those lay-ups, we got them back on their heels. Who knows, we might have been sitting with a bigger trophy.”
Whitens, a 6-foot-5 versatile guard/forward, has yet to receive a Division I college basketball offer. He could have preferred walk-on status at Michigan State and Central Michigan, although he’s still deciding his future. He has Division II offers from Grand Valley, Lake Superior State and Northern Michigan.
“I believe I can play at the highest level,” Whitens said. “You put me in any scenario, I’m going to work harder than anyone. That’s always been my motto. I’m going to play with a chip on my shoulder.”
North Central survived a thrilling double-overtime semifinal Thursday, beating Southfield Christian, 84-83, on senior guard Seth Polfus’ lay-up at the buzzer.
“It brought a lot of energy,” Whitens said. “Coming off the Southfield game, we had to respond and not have a letdown.”