Buzzer-beater sends Jets past Southfield Christian

Dennis Grall/EscanabaDaily Press North Central's Seth Polfus is hoisted in the air by teammate Bobby Kleiman Thursday as the Jets celebrate an 84-83 double overtime conquest of Southfield Christian in a Class D semifinal game at the Breslin Center in East Lansing. Polfus made the game-winning basket with point two seconds left.

EAST LANSING — The North Central Jets extended their national-best winning streak to 82 straight games Thursday night, but not until a video replay confirmed that Seth Polfus converted the game-winning basket just a skosh before the final buzzer in the second overtime.

The Jets squeezed past three-time former Class D state champion Southfield Christian 84-83 in a double overtime classic at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center to earn a shot at a third consecutive Class D state boys basketball title here Saturday.

The Jets (27-0) will face Buckley (26-0) at 10 a.m. Saturday for the state championship. Buckley defeated Lansing Christian 68-61 in Thursday’s nightcap.

Polfus momentarily lost control of a pass from Dawson Bilski, but retrieved it and calmly hoisted a shot from about eight feet left of the lane as the clock raced to zero. There was about point two of a second remaining when he released the ball.

The Jets began screaming and leaping for joy, only to learn within seconds that a video replay was necessary to determine if the basket would count. When the announcer said the shot beat the clock, the Jets really launched into a celebration.

“What they have accomplished is pretty incredible,” a stunned Eagles’ coach Josh Baker said at the post-game press conference.

Brock Washington, an all-stater for the Eagles and one of five teammates to score in double figures, said “it was a great game, a great fight. We tried to pressure the wings and someone (Polfus) got behind us.”

Washington had given the Eagles (21-6) an 83-82 lead with 8.1 seconds left in the second overtime when he buried a triple just left of the key. The Jets quickly raced upcourt and were forced to adjust when the Eagles had both wing options covered and left Bilski atop the key with the ball as the final seconds were vanishing.

He found Polfus, the team’s No. 5 scorer, had slipped behind the defense and rifled a pass to him. It was a tad low and Polfus had trouble finding the handle, until the last breath of time remained and he hoisted a prayer.

“Looking at it live, it looked like the ball left his hand in plenty of time,” said a drained North Central coach Adam Mercier.

“The kids matched their intensity and athleticism with extreme grittiness. Dawson made a heads-up play. Dawson has great floor vision. It is one of those situations where a guy makes a play.”

There were a ton of plays throughout, with the Jets playing from behind much of regulation. They led 31-30 at halftime but had to score the final five points to reach that point.

They yielded six triples in the first half, with Harlond Beverly draining 4-of-7 beyond the arc.

The Eagles, who only hit three more triples after the intermission, seemed ready to pull away when they used a 10-2 third-quarter burst for a 43-35 lead. That moved to 49-39 with 2:08 left in the period, but then the Jets showed their grittiness as Bilski and Bobby Kleiman hit triples to fuel a closing 14-4 flurry that tied the game at 53-53 entering the final frame.

That helped the two-time defending champions make their bid to take charge in the fourth quarter, opening a 64-59 lead on Kleiman’s basket with 4:17 left. But the Jets suddenly went frigid at the free-throw line, missing the front end of two bonus situations and three-of-five in a stretch of 1:45.

The Eagles also amped up the pressure with their overall quickness and forced a couple of turnovers, forging a 68-67 lead when Beverly stole the ball and passed to Bryce Washington, who finished with a thunderous dunk.

Jason Whitens then hit two gift shots with 16.2 left for a 69-68 lead for the Jets, but Beverly forced the overtime by hitting the first of two free throws with 6.2 left. Whitens missed a 10-footer from the left wing at the buzzer.

The Eagles took a 75-71 lead with 1:56 left in the first overtime, with Caleb Hunter’s exquisite ball handling and darting penetration accounting for all six points. Whitens then kept a missed NC shot alive by tapping it to Kleiman, who hit a clutch basket with 1:21 left.

Elijah Hicks hit the front end of a bonus free throw for the Eagles, who led 76-73 with 37.4 seconds left and putting North Central’s title hopes in serious trouble. But Polfus narrowly retrieved his loose dribble at the baseline and the Jets used a timeout with 28.2 seconds left to set up a final prayer, which Whitens answered with a massive triple just right of the key with seven seconds to go.

Whitens sent the Jets ahead to start the second extra session, but Hunter and Bryce Washington scored 18 seconds apart for an 80-78 Eagles’ lead. Bilski kept the Jets’ chances alive when he blocked a shot by Hunter with 2:02 left, but the Jets again could not capitalize at the charity stripe by going 3-of-6 over the final 1:52 for an 82-80 lead.

Brock Washington’s triple with eight seconds left appeared to doom the Jets, who simply refuse to give up in even the darkest moments and somehow find a way to survive.

Now the Jets face another major challenge as they try to bounce back from an epic encounter to seek a third straight championship.

“We’ll try to keep riding it, but we’ve got to come down from this victory in a quick way,” said Mercier. “We had to be gritty and resilient tonight.”

The Jets used just six players, with Whitens getting 31 points, Bilski 23 and Kleiman 14. North Central hit 29-of-65 field goals and held a 43-42 rebound edge, with Bilski getting 12 and Whitens 10.

All five Eagles reached double digits, with Bryce Washington getting 23 and Beverly 22. They hit 31-of-76 field goals and had 12 steals.

So. Christian 16 14 23 16 7 7 – 83

No. Central 13 18 22 16 7 8 – 84

Southfield Christian — Beverly 22, Temple 10, Hunter 11, Bryce Washington 23, Brock Washington 12, Humphrey 4, Hicks 1. FT: 10-15; F: 22; Fouled out: Temple, Humphrey; 3-point field goals – Beverly 5, Hunter 1, Bryce Washington 3, Brock Washington 2.

North Central – Krachinski 9, Polfus 7, Bilski 23, Kleiman 14, Whitens 31. FT: 19-26; F: 15; Fouled out: None; 3-point field goals – Krachinski 1, Polfus 1, Bilski 2, Kleiman 1, Whitens 2.