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Rochester Adams knocks off two-time reigning Class A champ Clarkston on opening night of districts

Rochester Adams knocks off two-time reigning Class A champ Clarkston on opening night of districts
BY: MATTHEW B. MOWERY Feb 25, 10:50pm

LAKE ORION — For the first time in three years, there will be a new champion in the state’s biggest division.

And, for the first time in forever and a half, the Clarkston Wolves are out of the boys basketball postseason on the first night, the two-time reigning Class A champions knocked off by Rochester Adams, 38-37, in Monday’s Division 1 district opener at Lake Orion.

The biggest win in Highlander basketball history?

“I can only recall the time I played in the 90s, and the last three years, but in those times, for me, yes. But the gap, I’m not sure. But it was a great win,” said third-year Adams coach Brad Crighton, whose team was winless in his first season on the bench, but went 17-3 in the regular season to win the OAA White.

“It’s been phenomenal. I couldn’t be more proud of these guys. I was proud of that group two years ago, too. They battled every game for me. But, yeah, it shows the character of the team I have. They’re very confident, and ready to play whoever’s in front of us.”

On Monday, that was a team that had accumulated 40 district titles over the years, having won 24 of the last 26 — Clarkston won 18 straight district crowns between 1994 and 2011, then picked the streak up again in 2014 — and was ranked No. 3 in D1.

First-year coach Tim Wasilk had a long postgame chat with the Wolves (17-3), who had surprised most observers with a 17-game win streak following an 0-2 start, especially since they were replacing nearly everyone — including legendary coach Dan Fife — from last year’s championship squad.

“There’s a couple of things: Our district is pretty tough. It’s one of the toughest districts we’ve had in a long time, so we knew going in we were going to have to play well, all three nights. There’s not really much I can say to these guys to make them feel better right now, and that’s what I told them. I told them I’m proud of how they played this year. We had a great season, we had a 17-game win streak. And it just wasn’t our night tonight. Adams outplayed us, and we just didn’t make the big plays, make the big shots. Credit to Adams,” Wasilk said.

“I was definitely proud of all these kids this year, with all the new players, all the new starters, fresh faces in the lineup, for our kids to stick together on both ends of the floor, and have such good team chemistry is a credit to the guys. It’s been a fun year. I was proud to coach them. Obviously we don’t want to go out like this, but it was a fun year.”

The Highlanders (18-3) move on to Wednesday’s second district semifinal, where it will take on Lake Orion (12-8), one of the two runners-up in the OAA Red. OAA Blue champion Oxford (20-1) beat Romeo, 70-59, in Monday’s early game, and will take on Waterford Kettering (9-11) in Wednesday’s first semifinal.

Keeping the Highlanders motivated won’t be difficult.

“I think what helps us, our first two games, we lost to Lake Orion and Oxford, so the boys, they want a chance to play them,” Crighton said. “You can hear them, they’re excited, but I told them, ‘Tomorrow, we’ve gotta get back, ready to win.’ That’s one game. We’ve gotta keep going.’”

The Highlanders played even — and physical — with Clarkston in the first quarter, setting the tone for the game. Adams pulled ahead at the half, then hit big shots every time the Wolves got close.

“I thought the first quarter was going to be crucial for us, just to show we could. I thought we could play with them, but I wanted to make sure they believed it, too. They’ve never played them. Jake Schuler’s the only guy that played Clarkston two years ago,” Crighton said. “I think once we hung in there, made a few baskets, they believed, and they were very confident.”

The Adams bigs were especially physical with Clarkston 7-footer Matt Nicholson, not allowing him to catch the ball comfortably on the blocks, limiting him to six points on the night.

“Yeah, that’s the only thing we can do. If (Nicholson) gets it three feet from the basket, it’s two points. I think a lot of their offense goes through him getting open down low. So I think Solomon (Shaw-Nichols) and George (Gurraj) played their butts off,” Crighton said. “Nicholson’s a tough match-up for anybody, but guard-wise, we have some athletic guards — bigger guards, too, that have some length. I think we frustrated them early. … I think that was the key: They didn’t have any easy looks tonight.”

Gurraj was especially active in the fourth, getting the go-ahead layup to break a 28-28 tie, then scoring over Nicholson to make it 35-28.

The Wolves had tied it on Fletcher Loyer’s 3-pointer with 6:40 to go, but didn’t score again until Nicholson hit two free throws with 1:35 left. The Wolves swiped the inbounds pass, getting a layup for Desmond Mills-Bradley less than 10 seconds later, making it 35-32. Peyton Prieskorn broke free for a layup, and converted the three-point play with 41.2 seconds left, making it 38-34, but Jake Jensen hit a leaning 3-pointer with 11 seconds left to cut it to a one-point deficit, 38-37.

Adams missed the front end of a one-and-one, and Clarkston rebounded with a chance to win it, but the last-second shot hit iron, and did not go in.

“No, we haven’t been behind very much this season. But under two minutes, we were down five, and we got ourselves in a situation where we were down one, with a chance to win it. So I was proud of the kids with how they didn’t stop playing, didn’t stop competing,” Wasilk said. “We knew they were a very good team, good guard play. Their bigs can play inside, but also step out and shoot the 3. So we knew we were in for a good game tonight. They played well. They deserved to win. They outplayed us. They did a great job defensively on us, and they made big shots.”