Detroit Cass Tech takes Division 1 boys basketball title in physical affair from Muskegon
EAST LANSING — Detroit Cass Tech took home the Division 1 state championship trophy with a 78-63 victory over Muskegon, but a postgame ice bath would have been a nice prize, too.
“I’m a little sore right now, but you know what? I’ll take a bit of little soreness if it means winning the state championship,” Cass Tech senior center Travon Cooper said. “Coming into this game, we knew Muskegon was a scrappy team. They’re feisty just like us, and we came in prepared for the war in the paint. We play in the PSL, so a little contact isn’t going to hurt us. But that was a tough game.”
Players from both teams were banged up in the extremely physical contest, as it was rare for anyone to get to the hoop unchallenged. It got so that the quickest way to advance the ball up the court was to be gifted free throws — 29 of which were attempted in the fourth quarter alone.
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The difference was that while Muskegon scored one free throw at a time, Cass Tech supplemented its charity-stripe makes with six baskets down the stretch while crashing the hoop. Cooper had three of those, with an and-one for good measure with 25 seconds to play.
Cooper and Darius Acuff led Cass Tech (27-1) with 19 points apiece while Kenneth Robertson was close behind with 15.
“We just stayed composed and tried to execute our game plan and emphasize defense,” Cooper said. "Coach (Steven) Hall said they got comfortable in our defense and we switched it up and went to a 1-2-2 and we were just able to contain them.”
Muskegon actually had a 47-46 lead with 10 minutes remaining, but Acuff closed the third quarter with a couple of clutch plays and the Technicians didn’t look back. First, he muscled his way to the hoop and scooped the ball in to reclaim the lead. On the next possession, he fired a no-look pass to Cooper lurking under the hoop, and that basket gave Cass a 50-47 lead to start the fourth quarter.
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The bonus was on both ways by the opening minute of the fourth quarter, and true to the physical nature of the game, both teams spent a fair amount of time remaining at the free-throw line. Both teams committed two offensive fouls early in the fourth, one of which was the fifth assessed to Cass Tech freshman Corey Sadler with 6:29 to play.
But Cass was able to absorb his absence, scoring on all but two of its last 16 possessions.
Muskegon (26-3) had four players in double figures: Jordan Briggs (19), David Day III (15), Anthony Sydnor (13) and Justin Watson (12). Briggs has signed with Wayne State while Sydnor is headed to Ferris State.
Cass Tech got the early advantage with a 12-0 run in the first quarter, taking a double-digit lead when Acuff made a three from beyond the top of the key six minutes into the game.
It didn’t help Muskegon that it misfired on eight consecutive possessions, and it took about a quarter for Muskegon’s 3-point shots to start falling. The Big Reds missed their first seven before Justin Watson beat the buzzer at the end of the first, setting the score at 14-11 Cass Tech. Watson’s next 3-pointer, 30 seconds later, tied the game at 16.
“We had a great season. Unfortunately, we came up short, but I enjoyed every moment of it, spending it with my brothers,” Briggs said. “It was a good win for Cass Tech, but I want to wish my little brothers on this team well, because they’ll be back.”
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Cass Tech was stronger on the boards in the second quarter, getting seven second-chance baskets en route to a 27-20 advantage in the quarter. The Technicians scored following an initial miss in their last four possessions of the half, hiking the lead back to 41-31 by the break.
What an exclamation point! A buzzer-beating triple is the cherry on top of the first ever State Championship for @tech_cass! #MHSAA I @ThinkFordFirst pic.twitter.com/CpzqJUgNQ9
— Bally Sports Detroit (@BallySportsDET) March 25, 2023
However, Cass’ lead was gone six minutes later, after Watson again drained a 3-pointer to put the Big Reds up 47-46. Briggs had two more 3s during the stretch. From there, the Technicians turned up the heat to claim their first state championship.
“Our student section was there, I was hugging all my teammates,” Cooper said. “This is the first one in school history. It felt great to finally make that accomplishment happen.”
It was the fourth state championship won by Hall. He also won three Class D titles in a row from 2003-05 at the now-closed Detroit Rogers. But to bring home the first to the school he attended was something special for Rogers, who coached Youngstown State before returning to the Motor City in 2015.
“There was not another high school job in America that I would have taken. I wasn’t eager to get back to high school, but I was eager to get back to my alma mater. That’s been my goal, that’s been my drive,” he said. “For us to be a state champion, I’m still trying to take it all in.”
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Cass Tech wins Division 1 boys basketball title over Muskegon