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D2 SEMIS: River Rouge outlasts Chandler Park in overtime, moves on to finals still chasing title No. 15

D2 SEMIS: River Rouge outlasts Chandler Park in overtime, moves on to finals still chasing title No. 15
BY: SCOTT BURNSTEIN Mar 15, 10:00pm

EAST LANSING — River Rouge passed its first true test of the state tournament Friday night, upending an upset-hungry and previously undefeated Harper Woods Chandler Park Academy crew 72-66 in overtime in the Division 2 boys basketball semifinals at Michigan State’s Breslin Center.

Entering Friday’s  intense back-and-forth affair, the Panthers hadn’t allowed an opponent to get within less than 17 points of them in their run to a third consecutive final four.

Chandler Park pushed the Panthers to the brink though and they needed Nigel Colvin’s 3-pointer at the regulation buzzer to force the extra session.

Colvin was money all game, going 8-of-10 from the field, drilling 4-of-6 from long distance for a game-high 20 points. His tying 3 came from the right baseline on an isolation set.

“I broke off from the original play when I saw an opening to get my man one-on-one and then just trusted my instinct,” he said.

Colvin’s last triple of the game started the scoring in overtime. Sophomore forward Legend Geeter’s bucket in the paint at the 1:40 mark of the final stanza provided River Rouge a lead (65-63) it wouldn’t relinquish. Colvin hit Geeter for a basket down low with 17.4 seconds left to make it a two-possession contest (70-66). Panthers point guard Bralin Toney sank a pair of free throws to wrap things up with less than a second to play.

Geeter, one of the top tenth-graders in the state, netted 17 points and corralled seven rebounds. River Rouge (23-2) will be aiming to extend its record for most MHSAA boys hoop crowns to 15 Saturday when the Panthers lock horns with Hudsonville Unity Christian (25-2) in the state finals. The last time River Rouge played for or won a state title was in 1999 during current Panthers coach LaMonta Stone’s first stint on the bench. Unity Christian beat Ludington, 69-30, in Friday's other D2 semifinal.

Stone returned to the sidelines to lead his alma mater for the third time late in the offseason after Mark White was fired for flirting with accepting the job at Detroit Renaissance, a school he took to two state championships in the 2000s. Following his first tenure coaching the Panthers, Stone journeyed to the college ranks and was an assistant at Ohio State, Eastern Michigan and Bowling Green.

“This is home,” said an emotional Stone in the wake of Friday’s narrow victory. “I got back here and I said state championship or bust. This is a great group of players, an unselfish group. They’re veterans, they’ve been through the wars and they deserve everything they’ve got so far. I told them the first time I stepped foot back in the gym, No. 15 (the program’s 15th state title) is yours for the taking.”

Colvin understands how sacred the basketball tradition is at River Rouge.

“At our school, nobody’s hanging banner for final four appearances. The state title is all that matters, that’s the standard we compare ourselves to and that’s in the back of our minds every game,” he said. “We’re looking to add to the history, write another chapter with our names in it.”

River Rouge was ahead 28-23 at the half Friday and the game was tied 44-44 after three quarters. Two free throws by Chandler Park senior swingman Andre Bradford with 14 ticks to go in regulation gave the Eagles a 60-57 advantage, setting the stage for Colvin’s heroics that forced overtime.

Bradford finished with 14 points on the night. Eagles senior floor general Derrick Bryant had 15 points, six assists and five rebounds. Charter school Chandler Park ends its season 21-1 having made its first trip to the state semifinals. Even though the Eagles were unbeaten in the regular season, most pundits looked past them (they didn't dot the state rankings until February).

“We fought hard,” Eagles coach James Scott said. “We were a big underdog tonight, but we didn’t let that deter us because we’ve been underdogs the whole season.”