LANSING – Malik Jones didn’t know how much he would be able to help the East Lansing boys basketball team, if at all, Friday.
An Achilles injury suffered earlier this week had the junior guard uncertain about whether he would even play.
But Jones battled through the pain. And he helped send the No. 2-ranked Trojans on to the next round of the state tournament.
Jones hit four free throws in the final 53.3 seconds as East Lansing captured a second straight Class A district title with a 61-56 victory over rival Everett at Don Johnson Fieldhouse.
“I haven’t been shooting the best from the free-throw line, but I’ve been working on it real hard,” said Jones, who had nine points off the bench. “My coaches, my teammates just told me to stay confident when I’m at the line and believe it’s going in. I believed it went in and it went in.”
Jones hit a pair of free throws on back-to-back possessions after being fouled in one-and-one situations with the Trojans clinging to a one-point lead each time. And he responded with the game on the line as East Lansing (23-0) sent home an Everett team that knocked it out of the state tournament in the regional final last March.
“I get on (Malik) a lot,” Finamore said. “I yell at him and I scream at him, but I also lift him up a lot. He’s my favorite player and I get after him, but he came through for us tonight.”
Westin Myles added 18 points and Deandre Robinson scored 15 points for East Lansing, which advances to next week’s regional at Richland Gull Lake. Brandon Johns scored 10 points and hit a pair of free throws with 8.7 seconds that helped seal the victory for the Trojans.
“It was definitely personal (for us),” Myles said. “After last year and the year before (when) they knocked us out of the tournament, it was personal. We wanted to win this one for sure.”
Diego Robinson had 18 points to lead Everett, while Jalen Hayes added 14 points and Allen English scored 11 off the bench.
English set up a tight finish by hitting a pair of 3s that pulled Everett (13-9) within one with 2:42 remaining. The Vikings couldn’t capitalize on their chances late and East Lansing made all eight of its free throws in the final 1:21 to hang on.
“It was tough,” Everett senior Nyreel Powell said. “We fought hard, we just couldn’t get ahead. They had us beat. We just couldn’t get the upper hand.”
Everett coach Desmond Ferguson lamented those missed opportunities late, including a shot that rimmed in and out from the corner that would have tied the game in the final 20 seconds. But Ferguson was proud of how his team fought and gave itself a chance against one of the state’s best teams.
“That’s how it goes,” Ferguson said. “It comes down to one or two possessions, and I’m just happy my guys fought. They fought and they showed Everett basketball. Even though we lost, and obviously to a good team, we can go out with our head held high because our guys fought.”
Contact Brian Calloway at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @brian_calloway.