EAST LANSING — Not even Xavier Tillman is immune to jitters.
The Grand Rapids Christian star forward and Michigan State signee fought through the nerves, helping the top-ranked Eagles cruise past Romulus, 74-52, in today’s Class A semifinal at the Breslin Center. MSU coach Tom Izzo sat courtside.
“I got caught up in the atmosphere and venue of Michigan State,” said Tillman, this year’s Mr. Basketball runner-up. “I thought coming in here, I wouldn’t have nerves playing in front of my future home. But I had nerves. I had a lot of nerves.”
Tillman, a 6-foot-8, 260-pound senior, attempted only three shots, finishing with five points, but added eight rebounds, seven blocks, six assists and two steals.
“In the first half, I didn’t perform as well as I should have,” Tillman said. “In the second half, though, I turned it around. I had a very good inside presence; rebounded the ball well, blocked a lot of shots.
“I love when Coach Izzo comes to my games. I want to show him my hustle, my positive attitude, my energy, as well as my blocking shots and offense down low in the post.”
The Eagles (27-0), hoping to win their first boys basketball state title since 1938, face Clarkston (26-1) in Saturday’s final at the Breslin Center.
Clarkston, a 78-35 winner over West Bloomfield in the other semifinal, is led by junior guard and Michigan State commit Foster Loyer, who had 32 points and seven assists today .
“Clarkston is going to be tough. They move the ball really well and hit big-time shots,” said Tillman, a former AAU teammate of Loyer’s. “We’re going to have to deny some of those passes and keep a focus on Foster as much as we can. I’d rather somebody else hit the shot than him, because he hits it on a consistent basis.”
Grand Rapids Christian fell behind Romulus (21-5) at the half, 28-27, but pulled away in the third quarter with a 24-8 run.
Eagles senior forward James Beck II finished with 24 points and nine rebounds, and junior guard Duane Washington Jr. added 15 points and six assists.
“Duane Washington and James Beck came really clutch (and) hit big-time shots, played big-time defense,” Tillman said. “It was a great performance from my teammates.”
Grand Rapids Christian expects a tougher final, especially after Loyer’s semifinal performance.
“I don’t know how we’re going to deal with (Loyer),” Eagles coach Mark Warners said. “They go as he goes. We’re going to have to figure something out. He’s a heck of a player.”
Clarkston is seeking its first boys basketball state title.
“I hope it’s a good final,” Warners said. “They’re so well coached and so disciplined. Their athletes are great and they make great plays. We played them this summer and they took us to the woodshed.”
Junior guard Kaevon Merriweather scored 18 points and senior forward Jaren English added 17 points and eight rebounds for Romulus, which shot 19 of 54 in the game.
“We never want this kind of ending, but you got to think, there’s 600 teams not playing (in the state semifinals),” Romulus coach Jerret Smith said. “At the end of the day, these kids are going to college, they’re going to be successful. That’s what it’s about.”