By Ben Murphy
Shoreline media contributing writer
BAY CITY — Shelby boys basketball head coach Rick Zoulek has had a unique problem with his team this season.
“I have a hard time of getting them out of the gym,” he said. “They are always staying after practice.
They spend so much time together, on and off the court.”
After Tuesday night’s 61-40 MHSAA Class C state quarterfinal win over New Haven at Delta College, Zoulek is going to have to keep the doors to the gym open at least a little while longer.
“It feels so good,” Zoulek added of the Tiger’s first quarterfinal win since 1972, which was also the year Shelby won its second of back-to-back Class C state titles. “That’s going to be the hardest thing for them this year, is to stop playing.”
The Tigers led the entire game, quite often in dominating fashion. Shelby led 7-6 early in the first quarter, and got a 9-0 run, capped by a 3-pointer by Chad Moore to take a 16-6 lead after the first quarter.
New Haven appeared to get back into the game, going on a 7-0 run at the start of the second quarter to cut the Shelby lead to 16-13, but a Kody Plummer basket put Shelby up 18-13 and Plummer later added a put back basket to put the Tigers up 26-17.
Jason Beckman drilled a contested 3-pointer moments before the halftime buzzer to put Shelby ahead 29-17 at the break, all to the appreciation of a boisterous purple and white crowd in attendance.
“I think we did a great job in the zone defense,” Zoulek said. “We knew we had a size advantage, so even if they hit a few shots, they wouldn’t get (second chance points). That’s what we’ve had to do all year. We’ve got some good offensive weapons but it’s our defense that I feel really carries us.”
New Haven twice cut the lead to eight in the third quarter, first at 32-24 on a basket by Sychar Sterling and then again at 36-28 on a Sterling lay in, but a mid range hoop by Cody Stotler put the Tigers ahead 38-28.
DJ Beckman knocked down a free throw to give Shelby a 44-28 edge with 1:47 left in the third, and though New Haven cut its deficit to 44-34 with a quick 6-0 run, Shelby’s Jason Beckman flipped in a left handed shot from 10 feet out just seconds before the buzzer ended on the third quarter, giving his team a 46-34 lead after three.
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Beckman’s basket was like several of the Tiger’s points on the night, coming in transition after a New Haven miss.
“On a lot of our long rebounds, we would attack,” Zoulek said. “We did a good job of making one or two passes and attacking the hoop. A team like that, you better attack or they’ll attack you.”
JR James scored a quick lay in to put the Tigers ahead 48-34 early in the fourth, and the route was on from there.
New Haven attempted shot after shot from three point land in its futile attempt at a comeback, but only fell further and further behind. New Haven missed all its first 18 shots from behind the arc.
On its 19th shot, and what turned out to be the final shot of the
game, Aurelion Cukaj, finally connected, but it was too little too
late as Shelby was already well into celebration of its blowout win.
“It was unexpected, definitely,” senior forward Lucas Landis said of
the relative ease of the win. “It was a good boost of morale, winning
another big game.”
DJ Beckman led the Tigers with 16 points and five rebounds, Stotler
and Landis both had eight points, with Landis adding nine rebounds, JR
James added six points and six rebounds and Jason Beckman added five
points. Spencer Peters added four assists in the winning cause.
Shelby (24-2) plays in the state semi-finals Thursday against Traverse
City St. Francis (24-2) at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center
with tip-off scheduled for 2:50 p.m. The winner plays Saturday at
noon, against the winner of the other Class ‘C’ semi-final between
Flint Beecher (26-0) and Schoolcraft (22-4).