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East Kentwood holds off Southfield A&T's second half push to advance to first Class A final

Basketball   | Jeff Dullack

East Kentwood holds off Southfield A&T's second half push to advance to first Class A final

East Lansing – Throughout much of its postseason run, East Kentwood hadn’t faced much of a challenge heading into Friday’s Class A semifinal against Southfield A&T, who advanced to the semifinals in its first year of existence.

And after a dominant first half led to a 15 point halftime lead, the Falcons looked like they were well on their way to another double-digit win and their first state finals appearance.

After East Kentwood built a 20 point lead in the second half, A&T came charging back, using a 22-4 to cut the deficit down to just two with 5:36 left to go, but the Falcons would use a late 8-0 run of their own to hold on for a 55-51 win.

In the Class A state final, East Kenwood (26-1) will face Flushing, who topped the defending Class A champion Warren Cousino in the first semifinal of the day, on Saturday at 12:00pm at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.

“Basically, I think we pulled it out was because I thought we were better than them and the kids believed we were better than them,” East Kentwood coach Jimmy Carter said. “That’s not confidence, that’s just fact. I know it may sound a little conceited, but I feel like we’ve been underrated all year. We’re not even ranked in our area, so we feel like we had something to prove and that we’re better than what people think.”

Holding a 30-15 lead coming out of halftime, East Kentwood immediately started building on its lead as a 3-pointer from Mauriya Barnes gave the Falcons a 38-18 lead.

A&T (22-5) wouldn’t go quietly, as the Warriors finished the third quarter on a 9-0 run with the help of four points from Miss Basketball finalist Deja Church (Signed with Michigan), to cut the deficit down to 38-27 after three quarters.

The Warriors picked up right where they left off to open up the fourth quarter as Church would tally eight points in the first two and a half minutes as East Kentwood’s lead would be trimmed to just 42-40 with 5:36 left to play.

Church led all scorers with 26 points and 12 rebounds, while Alexis Johnson added 13 points and 17 rebounds in the loss for A&T.

After Church would again make it a two point game, 44-42, East Kentwood would rattle off eight straight points to take its lead back to 10 with less than two minutes remaining.

Carter said that a timeout that came shortly after his team took a 46-42 lead, he reassured his team that it was still in good position to advance to Saturday’s state final.

“I just told them to settle down and we got this,” he said. “Let’s go ahead and take care of business and come back here tomorrow.”

While the Falcons struggled from the free throw line for much of the day, shooting just 37-percent from the charity stripe, Barnes knocked down to crucial free throws late in the game to all but seal the win for East Kentwood.

“Those last two free throws, I just really had to compose myself,” Barnes said. “We really needed them at that time, so I had to get myself together and make those.”

East Kentwood was led by 16 points from Barnes, while Corinne Jemison finished with 13 points and 14 rebounds in the win.