EAST LANSING – Flint Beecher’s reign as Class C state champion was about to end.
Upstart Detroit Loyola led by two points with five seconds left Thursday when the ball was inbounded to Beecher junior Malik Ellison.
“At first when I pump faked,” Ellison said, “I was like, ‘Should I pass?’ ”
There really wasn’t enough time for another pass-and-shoot opportunity, but Ellison wanted to pass because Loyola’s PJ Mitchell was all over him.
“I seen him jump,” said Ellison, who had to adjust his body in mid-air just to get the shot off. “He had two hands in my face so I leaned to the side and floated it up and it was a bucket.”
It was a game-winning bucket … at the buzzer.
Beecher kept alive its dream of winning its fourth state title in five years with a heart-stopping 60-59 victory over Loyola in the Breslin Center. The Bucs will meet Grandville Calvin Christian for the state title Saturday at 4:30 p.m.
It was a devastating loss for Loyola (21-6), which missed its first 13 three-point shot attempts, trailed by 15 points in the third quarter and by 11 with 5:20 left in the game before staging a furious rally.
Loyola led by four points with 47 seconds left to play, but had a turnover, missed the front end of a one-and-one and then missed two free throws on its final three possessions.
“I think we’re the better team, he just hit a lucky shot,” said Loyola senior Romari Ennis. “I think that’s what happened.”
If there is such a thing as luck, Ellison’s shot may have been a good example — except for one thing.
“Every day I go in the gym — either the ‘Y’ or I stay after practice,” said Ellison (11 points on 3 of 12 shooting), “and hit shots like that — fadeaways and everything for times like this. I pulled through today.”
Yes he did, and so did No. 1 Beecher (24-2), despite committing 18 turnovers.
“I thought we were a little careless with the ball,” said Beecher coach Mike Williams. “This is the first time we turned the ball over as many times as we did all year. But, one thing about this team and what they’ve shown all season is resiliency, poise and composure in the face of elimination.”
The Bucs could have been eliminated in the district opener when they trailed Flint Hamady by five points with 50 seconds left, or in the regional when they trailed Southfield Christian by 13 points with one minute left in the third quarter.
Levane Blake did his version of a chin-up on the rim while dunking the ball with 5:20 left to give Beecher an 11-point lead. But he was hit with a technical foul and Loyola responded with two Mitchell free throws and a triple from Ernest Adams (15 points).
Following a three-pointer by Loyola’s Keith Johnson (10 points), Aquavius Burks (22 points) got the Bucs rolling with a power move for a three-point play.
Loyola had four-point lead with 25 seconds left when Beecher’s Jordan Roland, who had missed all five of his shots, missed the front end of a one-and-one, but stole the ball and scored to make it a two-point lead.
“Coach said don’t let nobody get behind you and I didn’t,” said Roland. “When he cut, I could see the passer was going to pass it to him. I always keep my deny hand up, I denied, it, stole it and made the lay-up.”
And Beecher has another spot in the state finals.
Contact Mick McCabe: 313-223-4744 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1