EAST LANSING – It is not often that Cassius Winston is upstaged by anyone on a basketball court, much less by someone from his own team.
But that is precisely what happened when U-D Jesuit made its third straight Class A semifinal appearance Friday, and the happiest guy in the Breslin Center was … Winston.
“I wouldn’t say I was nervous,” said Winston, the state’s newly-crowned Mr. Basketball. “I definitely wasn’t playing well out there. This year we just have a talented team. It’s a talented group of kids that we can get it done from the inside, we can get it done from the outside; we have kids who can knock down shots.”
And the Cubs have 6-foot-9 Gregory Eboigbodin, who can rebound like no one else.
Eboigbodin hit all six of the shots he took for 13 points and yanked down a career-high 18 rebounds to lead U-D Jesuit to a surprisingly easy 72-51 victory over Macomb Dakota in a battle of unbeatens.
The win means the Cubs can claim the school’s first Class A state championship today when they meet North Farmington at noon.
No. 1 ranked U-D Jesuit (27-0) had a 39-24 edge on the boards — and it was Eboigbodin, who grew up in Nigeria, who looked nothing like the player who was held to three points and eight rebounds in last year’s semifinal loss to Detroit Western.
“Last year I was really scared because I never played such a crowd like that before,” he said. “This year I tried to get up my confidence and my teammates they advised me every year to kick it up.”
Winston, who still managed to score a game-high 27 points with 12 assists, was elated with Eboigbodin’s performance.
“That’s what we tell him every day — 15 and 15,” Winston said. “If he gets 15 points and 15 rebounds, we win every game.”
The Cubs won this one in several areas, most notably with a terrific defensive effort led by Matt Schearer, who had the difficult assignment of guarding 5-10 junior Jermaine Jackson, Dakota’s best player.
Jackson hit his first two shots — both three-point bombs — but then missed 12 consecutive shots and finished 4 of 21 for 12 points.
“I just tried to use my length and my athleticism to make life difficult for him,” said Schearer, 6-3. “I tried to make it difficult for him to catch it every time, keep a hand up because he’s a great shooter, and overall just effort to try to limit his touches and play the defense I can.”
Dakota (26-1) trailed, 17-9, after one quarter and 30-15 at halftime — and all of the Dakota players had difficulty making shots.
This was the deepest Dakota has ever advanced in the state tournament and the Cougars played a lot like U-D Jesuit did in its first trip to the semifinals two seasons ago.
“It’s probably the hypest game I ever played in,” said Jackson. “Cassius is a great player. Mr. Basketball coming in, that’s a tough task. He led his team tonight and he just came out with the win.”
U-D Jesuit never came close to losing control of the game in the second half, proving once again that this is a much different team than the ones which lost in the last two semifinals.
“This year it’s not just me doing everything,” Winston said. “As you can see today, it was a bad outing, but I had strong supporting cast that helped me out and got us to the victory.”
Contact Mick McCabe: 313-223-4744 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1