EAST LANSING — Dan Fife soaked up the moment.
After 35 years and 677 wins, Clarkston’s legendary coach finally realized his championship dream. The Wolves upset top-ranked Grand Rapids Christian, 75-69, in today’s Class A final for their first boys basketball state title.
The Breslin Center crowd of 13,251 included Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, Michigan coach John Beilein and Oakland coach Greg Kampe.
Fife ranks fourth all-time in MHSAA career victories.
“To do this for coach Fife, and our community, has been very special,” said junior guard and Michigan State commit Foster Loyer, who had 29 points, five rebounds and three assists. “We’re honored to be in this position.”
The Eagles (27-1), led by senior forward and Michigan State signee Xavier Tillman, were seeking their first state title since 1938.
Christian rolled past Kalamazoo Central and Mr. Basketball winner Isaiah Livers in the quarterfinals, and handled Romulus in the semifinals.
“It’s very tough,” said Tillman, who finished today with 25 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two blocks. “There’s nothing to be down about. We worked our butts off to get here.”
Although Tillman and Loyer are both headed to MSU, they found themselves on opposing sides in the final. Loyer shot 8-for-16, including 4 of 8 from three-point range, and made 9 of 10 free throws.
“People don’t give Foster enough credit for his height, his strength and his athleticism,” Tillman said. “He’s going to be a really tough player (at Michigan State) in two years.”
Loyer, a former AAU teammate of Tillman’s, expected this year’s Mr. Basketball runner-up to compete hard.
“Xavier is a dominant player,” Loyer said. “Ultimately, when that final buzzer rang, there’s nothing but respect … between me and him. We’re very excited to play together.”
The Wolves had a 20-12 lead at the end of the first quarter and led, 34-29, at halftime.
Clarkston (27-1) opened the final period on a 6-0 run, capped by sophomore Taylor Currie’s two free throws, to go ahead, 61-48.
“It felt like we were getting traction,” Tillman said of playing from behind. “We had energy, got stops, got some big buckets. We felt like, ‘Man, we’re in it.’ Then we look at the score and we’re still down.”
Even though Christian had been playing near-flawless basketball leading up to today, the Wolves never considered themselves an underdog.
“We were able to get an early lead and that set up a little momentum throughout the game,” Loyer said. “It came down to playing as a team, and guys stepped up and made big plays.”
Currie finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds, and junior guard Christopher Robinson scored 14 for the Wolves.
Eagles junior guard Duane Washington Jr. had 16 points and senior forward James Beck II added eight points and six rebounds.
“I’m definitely proud,” Tillman said. “To go 27-1, not many people can say that.”