Sexton barely kept alive its streak of not having lost a CAAC Blue boys basketball game since it rejoined the league last season.
Sophomore Trevor Manuel’s post move and basket with 10 seconds remaining Friday night capped a comeback from an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit and lifted the Big Reds to a 45-44 victory over previously unbeaten Okemos.
“The left wing was wide open when I turned left,” Manuel said. “So I made the decision to go up and go strong. It felt good coming off my hand.”
Hayes finished with 13 points and Manuel 11 for the Big Reds (4-1, 3-0), whose only loss was 67-52 to Class A No. 1 Romulus last Saturday.
“Trevor’s ceiling is so high,” Sexton coach Carlton Valentine said. “When he figures out how to compete hard all the time, he’ll be that elite player that everybody expects him to be. But that’s part of the growth and maturation process. You’ve got to learn how to go hard every possession.”
Sexton’s only other lead was 4-3. Okemos then scored 10 straight points and eventually held the 6-foot-9 Manuel and 6-7 senior Jalen Hayes to two points each in a first half that ended with the Chiefs ahead 22-13.
“Give them a lot of credit — they were doubling us down low, and it was tough for our guards to get it in there,” Valentine said. “But still we’ve got to present and finish when we get it. So I challenged Jalen at halftime to compete.”
Hayes scored seven points in the third quarter, but Sexton couldn’t draw any closer than nine in part because Okemos made 9 of 10 free throws in the period.
“I thought offensively we shot well, and we shot free throws well,” Okemos coach Jeff Wonch said. “We just didn’t take care of the ball when we needed to, and they did a great job crashing the boards.”
Two more free throws put the Chiefs ahead 39-28 with 7:11 remaining when Manuel scored five straight points. A pair of free throws, and then a steal and dunk by Hayes with 3:45 left, cut Okemos’ lead to 39-37.
The Big Reds might have taken the lead earlier, but they made just 12 of 22 free throws in the contest.
“We shoot a lot of free throws in practice, but there’s nothing like game situation free throws,” Valentine said.
Riley McCarthy scored 13 points to lead Okemos (4-1, 2-1), which suffered its first loss under Wonch — a former Bath and Potterville coach — even though no starters returned from last season’s team that won district and regional titles under Dan Stolz.
“That guy won a state title, and he’s doing a great job. He got his guys to buy in early,” Valentine said of Wonch. “I’m still working on my guys. I’ve got a new group, and I’m working on building that trust.”
Hayes is the only returning starter from back-to-back Class B state championship teams at Sexton.
“There are going to be some bumps in the road, but we’re going to get there,” Valentine said.