No. 1 U-D Jesuit led No. 4 Ypsilanti by only a single point midway through the second quarter when Cassius Winston drove to the basket and scored.
After teammate Scott Nelson hit a free throw, Winston scored on the next two U-DJ possessions before feeding Elijah Collins for a three-pointer, the first of his three-straight baskets.
“When it gets tight or we’re struggling offensively, I have to go make a play,” Winston said. “That’s just the role I stepped up to and I tried to live up to it.”
Not only did Winston live up to that role Tuesday night, he lived up to his recent billing as the state’s newly-crowned Mr. Basketball in leading the Cubs to a 62-47 quarterfinal victory over Ypsilanti at Calihan Hall.
The victory sends U-DJ into Friday’s 1 p.m. semifinal game against the Macomb Dakota/Midland winner at the Breslin Center.
Winston, who signed with Michigan State, was terrific again, scoring 25 points in leading the Cubs to their 26th straight victory.
But Winston did much more than just score. He controlled the tempo and kept Ypsilanti (22-2) from playing at the faster pace it prefers.
“Here’s the key: You can’t speed him up,” Ypsi coach Steve Brooks said of Winston. “And when you can’t speed him up, he’s always under control. And then (Collins) hit a couple of ‘threes’ and those are back-breaking ‘threes.’ This guy can pretty much run the clock himself. If he can run a minute off the clock and still get a ‘three,’ that’s a helluva offense.”
The Cubs went from a 17-16 lead to a 33-16 advantage early in the third quarter when Ypsi failed to score for exactly eight minutes, covering 12 consecutive futile possessions.
One of the keys to U-DJ’s lead was the defense of Matt Schearer in holding Mr. Basketball finalist Corey Allen to only six first-half points.
“I think in the first half our team defense showed we can shut down whoever we want,” Schearer said. “We really played great help defense and doing that we showed even great players we can hold them accountable. I tried to make it difficult every single time for him to catch the ball.”
The 6-foot-3 Allen, who has signed with Detroit Mercy, broke loose for 21 second-half points and got Ypsi within nine with 2:30 left in the game. But on the following possession, Winston drove to the basket and just looked at 6-9 Greg Eboigbodin – and the Ypsilanti defense scrambled toward the big man, leaving Winston with an uncontested lay-up.
Two possessions later, Winston drove again and this time threw an alley-oop pass to Eboigbodin, who slammed it home for a 15-point lead.
Winston’s ability to hit difficult inside shots, coupled with his unselfishness, puts the defense in a perplexing dilemma.
“He’s so good at not tipping his hand at what he’s going to do those defenders, when they’re standing there watching him come at them, it’s a 50/50 thing,” said U-DJ coach Pat Donnelly. “Either way he can score or he puts the ball where it needs to be.”
Nobody knows that better than Collins, who scored 18 points and hit four three-point shots.
“He knows how to get other people open and distribute the ball and get people in places where they can score,” Collins said of Winston. “When he has the ball he usually drives to the paint and I’m rotating up for an easy open shot.”
Contact Mick McCabe: 313-223-4744 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1.