Jiovanni Miles and his Novi teammates had a couple big reasons for wanting to come out Tuesday and get a boys basketball win over host Livonia Stevenson.
The main reason was for the Wildcats to clinch the KLAA Central Division, although almost as important was getting the big W at Stevenson — where Novi head coach Brandon Sinawi spent a decade coaching.
Novi hit the floor running and scoring, building a quick 12-6 lead and ultimately rolling to an entertaining 89-80 victory over the second-place Spartans. That gave the Wildcats a 9-0 mark in the division (12-4 overall) and sealed the deal on the division title.
The defeat dropped Stevenson’s record to 12-3 overall and 6-3 in the KLAA South.
“We just came out, did what he had to do,” said Miles, a sophomore guard who plays with the savvy of a senior. “Made sure we got the win so we could clinch the division, and we just played as a team.”
Miles led all scorers with 27 points, sparking an attack that outgunned the potent offense of the Spartans, which was led by outside shooters Chris Tanderys (five treys, accounting for 15 of his 17 points) and Ian Knoph (three triples, 16 points).
Also coming up big for Novi was junior guard Trendon Hankerson, with 26 points. Chipping in with 17 and 11 points, respectively, were senior forard Alec Begeris and junior guard Traveon Maddox Jr.
“We knew it was going to be a high-scoring game, they can score the basketball,” Sinawi said. “So for us, our focus was to win it tonight. so that gives us no pressure on Friday for our rivalry game against Northville. It gives us a chance to go in there and have some fun.
“To be at 9-0 in the division is great, we have a lot more to accomplish. … I coached in here for 10 years (at Stevenson), so it’s nice to come in here and win it with our guys.”
Sinawi also praised the all-around effort turned in by Miles, who scored 14 points in the first half to help Novi go up 39-29 at the break.
“If you would have seen him (Miles) in the locker room he was gassed,” Sinawi added. “He gave it everything he had in that first half. We kind of had to help him to the locker room.
“He wanted this one so bad. … he knew I wanted this one in the place where I coached for a long time. I think he wanted to come out and get the win for me.”
Stevenson head coach Kareem Smart lamented not being able to put a successful defensive roadblock against the high-flying Wildcats.
“We could not stop them for anything,” Smart said. “They had everything going, inside, outside and even the free-throw line. I think they were 22 for 26 from the free-throw line.”
Tough to watch
Smart gave props to the Wildcats, however.
“You never want to see them celebrate on your floor, but that’s a good team over there,” Smart noted. “They’re coached really well by Brandon Sinawi and Ricco (Rowry).
“Hats off to them. But we got to keep pushing and grinding and maybe we see them in the KLAA tournament.”
In the third quarter, which began with the Wildcats up 39-29, both teams each connected on four 3-balls in a fast and frenetic frame.
The back-and-forth began just 10 seconds into the quarter, when Stevenson’s Jeremiah Eason (eight points) buried a trey from the right corner.
Before one minute had elapsed in the quarter, Begeris and Stevenson’s Tanderys found the mark from beyond the three-point arc.
And so it went, with the Spartans getting to within 44-38 on another Tanderys triple, but never getting any closer.
“It was like practice for us, that’s what it felt like, because we normally don’t shoot like that,” Miles said. “But we just had to step up and make big shots.”
Smart, meanwhile, said Tanderys “had a great game tonight, … and Ian (Knoph) down the stretch played well.”
But Stevenson just could never get over the hump, always trailing by six-to-10 points during the second half.
“My teammates were finding me,” Tanderys stressed. “When I was open they were feeding me the ball so that’s always nice. My coaches trusted me, when I have a little space I have the green light.
“But whenever we scored they scored right back. We had some hands in their faces when they were shooting and they were still making shots.”