EAST LANSING – This time around, there was no mystery opponent for the Fulton boys basketball team in the state tournament.
The Pirates were very familiar with Powers North Central, the Upper Peninsula powerhouse that eliminated them in the Class D semifinals last season.
This year, it was the same two teams, in the same setting, with the same result, as the unbeaten and No. 1-ranked Jets handled Fulton, 64-23, in Thursday’s state semifinals at Michigan State’s Breslin Center.
“We were not us all night long, and a lot of that is due to the things they did,” Pirate coach Todd Walden said. “I thought we pressed a little bit and got away from our game plan in the first two, three possessions on both ends.”
Powers North Central got going behind junior forward and Associated Press Player of the Year Jason Whitens, who scored 11 of his game-high 23 points in the first quarter.
The Jets (27-0), who are the defending state champs, jumped out to a 9-0 lead before senior guard Colton Antes, who was named second-team all-state earlier this week, scored the Pirates’ (19-7) first field goal of the game with 3:55 remaining in the first quarter.
Powers North Central, which hasn’t lost since the 2013-14 season, went into halftime with a 41-9 lead.
“We don’t try to do anything different,” said Jets coach Adam Mercier, who had three players in double-digit scoring. “They have expectations for themselves. We don’t follow anyone else’s expectations.
“There’s no pressure on these kids – it’s the game of basketball. It’s meant to be played with a lot of passion, a lot of fun and a lot of energy. There shouldn’t be pressure, they’re 17-, 18-year-old kids just playing the game of basketball.”
Despite the loss, Walden felt his team exceeded outside expectations. Fulton captured its second consecutive regional title last week, which is a program first.
And after getting a taste of the big stage last year, the 19-year coach said not getting over the hump is “what hurt the most.”
“A performance like this is obviously going to leave a bad taste for a couple of days,” Walden added. “But we were picked to finish fourth in our league and we finished second.
“It was a goal of theirs to get back and get another shot.”
Antes, who hit around 300 career 3-pointers and will finish as one of the best long-distance shooters in state history, scored a team-high six points. Junior Jacob Brunner added five points.
Contact James L. Edwards III at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JLEdwardsIII.