State powerhouse Romulus overwhelms Milan down the stretch in Class A regional final
Joseph Tobianski | AnnArbor.com
WYANDOTTE -- Milan High School boys basketball coach Josh Tropea knew everything had to go right for his team to have a chance against No. 2 Romulus in the Class A regional final at Wyandotte Roosevelt High School.
When University of Missouri commit Wes Clark cut into the lane in the middle of the second quarter and Thomas Lindeman hit the deck as the referee's whistle blew with Milan trailing 17-14, it looked like the Big Reds would have possession and a chance to tie game after a charge call on Clark.
In other words, things were going right for the Big Reds.
But the referee signaled for a block on the Clark bucket, and shortly after that, for a technical foul on Tropea for his reaction to the call. Clark made two of his three free throws and Romulus hit a 3-pointer on its ensuing in-bound play.
Instead of shooting to tie the game, Milan was suddenly looking at 10-point deficit.
It didn’t lose the game for Milan, but it certainly didn’t help its cause. It was the sort of play that needed to go Milan's way for it to hang with a team with three players with Division I scholarships and ranked No. 20 in the nation.
Milan hung with Romulus for two-and-half quarters, but the athleticism and depth of the Eagles eventually took over as they defeated the Big Reds, 75-51.
Whenever it looked like Milan might make a run, it seemed a shot would spin around the basket, but not drop, or a loose ball would slip from the fingers of a player and right to Romulus.
"Against a team like this, things have to go your way, and you can’t have an off night," Tropea said. "I didn’t think we had an off night, but we needed for those shots to fall for us. I just told them, those shot go in it might be a different game."
After trailing 34-21 at half, Milan (22-2) started the third quarter with a 9-2 run, fueled by four points, a steal and an assist from Latin Davis. After picking the pocket of Clark and hitting on a layup, Davis found C.J. Turnage with a no-look pass under the basket, who finished with a two-handed slam to make the score 36-30 three minutes into the third quarter.
"I turned to my coach and I said, 'we’re still in this,'" Tropea said of the play.
One of the largest positives to come of the night for Tropea was the play of Davis, who led all scorers with 22 points and looked comfortable on both ends of the court against Romulus' highly touted lineup.
Tropea said Davis played like one of the best players in the state.
Joseph Tobianski | AnnArbor.com
"He played like a kid going to Missouri tonight," Tropea said. "Every time we’d get it close, it seemed like he’d take a pull up jumper to take the lead back over."
In the first quarter it came in the form of a step-back 3-pointer, in the second a coast-to-coast drive to begin a seven-point run and throughout the second half big shot after big pass after big rebound.
"When a game’s close he’s going to make sure that we’re doing what we need to," said Romulus coach Nate Oats." He’s maybe the best competitor I’ve ever coached. I mean, he doesn’t want to lose, he just competes, competes, competes all the time."
Matthews would have two more dunks in the fourth quarter alone -- part of a barrage from the Eagles -- as Romulus used its athleticism on defense and then in transition to go on a 12-3 run that all but ended the game.
"I blinked my eye and it went from six to 14 and I’ve got one timeout left. I felt like I needed 15 timeouts tonight with all the runs they make," Tropea said. "You gotta give them credit, that’s a heck of a basketball team. I don’t necessarily think we played that bad, I just think we got beat.
Turnage finished with 12 points. Matthews had 17 points to lead Romulus while Clark had 16 and nine rebounds.
Clark left the game early in the fourth quarter clenching his knee. Oats was unsure what exactly caused the injury or if Clark would be alright to play on Tuesday in Romulus' rematch with No. 1 Detroit Pershing in the state quarterfinals. Undefeated Pershing is the only team to beat Romulus all season and won on a buzzer beater against U-D Jesuit on Wednesday.
"We just hope for the best, if he can’t go Tuesday we’ll have to have Plan B figured out," Oats said.
Though Milan didn't shock the basketball world with an upset victory, Tropea believes his team proved its worth against the best the state has to offer.
"Latin Davis was one of the best players in the state tonight. Nick Perkins was phenomenal tonight. Devan Berges and Thomas Linderman showed no fear against the number two team in the state and these guys are all coming back," Tropea said. "I don’t see us going away."