By the time senior point guard Marcus Wourman fouled out with 37.6 seconds remaining in East Lansing’s state quarterfinal game, it was clear the Trojans were finally spent.
With a short-handed roster, EL had managed to keep the game within reach for the better part of 32 minutes against Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern. The Trojans countered the Huskies hot 3-point shooting with a stellar performance from a duo of senior guards: Wourman and David Wilkerson.
But despite excellent performances from its two seniors, East Lansing could only get within five points in the final minutes of the game, as the Trojans attempted a heroic comeback. A last-gasp push came up short.
“They’re fighters, they’re warriors,” Trojans Head Coach Ray Mitchell said postgame about Wourman and Wilkerson. “We were down some people. You can’t, you can’t blame that. You gotta come out and fight. And those guys stepped up to the plate.”
East Lansing lost a state quarterfinal, 66-56, to Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern on Tuesday evening at Orchard View High School in Muskegon. Without two starters and a handful of role players, the Trojans needed a strong performance from their pair of seniors and got just that. The duo of Wourman and Wilkerson combined for 43 points (19 and 24, respectively) in an attempt to fill the void left by their absent teammates. But on a night where two opposing guards combined for 45 points themselves, the depleted Trojans simply did not have enough offensive firepower.
“We needed a couple more guys to step up,” Mitchell said, “but I believe everybody kind of stepped up. I was proud of our guys. We had some guys playing more minutes than they played all year. And I thought they took on the challenge and did really well.”
Two starters — junior guard Brevin Jackson and sophomore forward Evan Boyd — plus AJ Taylor, Kyle Foster and Christian Dunn were all missing from Tuesday’s game. When asked about their absence postgame, Mitchell preferred to talk about the players who were there.
“I can’t talk about that,” Mitchell said. “I can talk about the guys who were here.”
And without Jackson and Boyd’s regular scoring, rebounding, and ball handling contributions, the Trojans turned to junior Evan Sundermann and senior Gabe Montes to fill out the starting lineup. EL also needed bench players who have rarely played this season to step up and fill in key minutes in the biggest game of the season.
Montes and Sundermann filled in capably for the Trojans, defending intensely and providing their usual offensive contributions — Montes making some 3s, Sundermann crashing the glass on both ends.
And beyond the two spot starters, senior Mayan Mayan and juniors Te’Son Gregory, Jordan Wade and Marshall Kambasha all played well in key spots.
Mayan scored two points when the defense left him alone at the basket, along with grabbing a few rebounds. The trio of juniors all checked in at various points and filled in comfortably, keeping the offense flowing and defending hard.
“Everybody knew what their assignments were and everybody came out and did that,” Mitchell said. “…those guys stepped up today. I’m proud of them.”
Shouldering most of the burden, though, were Wourman and Wilkerson.
After Wourman went to the bench early in the game with two fouls, Wilkerson put on a scoring clinic.
He used his length and ball handling ability to consistently beat defenders off the dribble and score at the basket with layups, floaters and banked-in runners. And when Wilkerson didn’t choose to attack, his jump shot was pure.
With 7:18 left in the second quarter, in response to a Huskies 3, Wilkerson stepped in a 3 in rhythm and buried it, bringing the score to 19-16, in favor of GRFHN. At that point, Wilkerson had 12 of EL’s 16 points. By halftime, Wilkerson had scored 18 of the Trojans 25.
In the second half, Wourman came alive. Similarly to Wilkerson, Wourman attacked the basket. Relying on his handle and supreme athleticism, Wourman repeatedly got going downhill and scored a bevy of contested layups in the second half.
Plus, without the albatross of playing with two fouls in the first half, Wourman defended viciously in the second half. And, as the point guard, he marshalled the team through its various comeback pushes as the game wore on.
With about five minutes to play, with the game still in flux, Wourman took a hard fall on his already injured back after deflecting a pass. After staying down and writhing in pain for 30 seconds or so, Wourman popped up, went to the bench, and promptly checked back into the game.
“He’ll do anything that I ask,” Mitchell said of Wourman. “And then he’ll guard the opponents best player. Loves to share the ball. He can score the ball. Man, what more can I say about him? He’s do-it-all point guard.”
But the star performances of Wourman and Wilkerson were not enough to outduel the Huskies senior guard duo of Ethan Erickson (23 points) and Trinidad Chambliss (21 points).
Erickson displayed a lethal 3-point shot early that spurred the East Lansing defense to play him even more aggressively than they already were. This gave Erickson the windows he needed to drive and either score, or draw a double team and pass.
Chambliss also featured a formidable 3-point shot, and complemented that with his strength and quickness, causing problems for almost any defender EL put on him.
When the Trojans defense favored covering Erickson, Chambliss got his opportunities, and vice versa. And to try and stymie both of them gave opportunities to the other capable scorers that GRFHN had on the floor — the types of scorers East Lansing was missing on Tuesday.
“Those guys are really good,” Mitchell said, “and they have really good sets and their teammates know where their bread and butter is at. And that’s what I was trying to tell our team, like everything is going through those guys. So that’s what we should be concentrating on. And I mean, this is basketball. You game plan, but guess what? They game plan too. So we weren’t — we wanted to stop it, but those are some good players.”
Even with Erickson and Chambliss scoring in bunches, the Trojans appeared to have a solid counter with Wilkerson and Wourman. What it didn’t have was the secondary scoring to keep pace with the Huskies to the end.
Without some players, those left on the Trojans roster performed admirably, giving everything and rising to the challenge of the moment — contesting shots, diving for loose balls, fouling out when necessary — but it just wasn’t enough.
And though the Trojans did fall short, it wasn’t for lack of exhausting every possible chance to win.