Big Reds basketball reaches Final Four

Photo by Joel Dotson The Milan Big Reds celebrate their 62-53 victory over Wayland Union on Tuesday night. The Big Reds are going to the Breslin Center for the first time, and this is their first trip to the Final Four since 1948.

Photo by Joel Dotson
The Milan Big Reds celebrate their 62-53 victory over Wayland Union on Tuesday night. The Big Reds are going to the Breslin Center for the first time, and this is their first trip to the Final Four since 1948.

By Joel Dotson

All season long, Milan Big Reds head basketball coach Josh Tropea had three goals – win a district title, win a regional title, and get to the Breslin Center in East Lansing. Heading into their game against the Wayland Union Wildcats, two of those three things had been accomplished. The third happened on Tuesday night, as the Big Reds defeated Wayland 62-53. The victory also gives Milan a single-season school record for wins, with this being their 23rd of the year.

The Big Reds held their largest lead at 45-30 near the end of the third quarter, when Wayland 5’7″ freshman guard Avery Hudson hit a two-pointer as time expired. Hudson then went on a tear, knocking down four of the Wildcats’ five 3-pointers that erased Milan’s lead and put Wayland within a point. Following two Latin Davis free throws, a three-point play by Lacey James tied the game at 52 with 3:12 remaining in the game. From then on, it was all Milan.

Free throws by Davis and Lance Lewis gave the Big Reds a 54-52 lead. Milan extended the lead to 58-52 following a Nick Perkins layup, and two more free throws from Lewis. Freshman Garrett Gardette had a key steal and fed Davis for a layup, making it 60-52 with 1:11 to go. Perkins put an exclamation point on the victory with a dunk with 28 seconds left, giving the Big Reds a 10-point lead. The Wildcats missed four 3-point attempts in the same time frame, before Milan came away with the 62-53 win.

Tropea was proud of his players. “This is what we came here for,” he said. “This was a total team win, and everybody who was on the floor contributed. Nick and Latin were good as usual, but this game was decided by our 3-8 players. Our role players were super tonight.”

The game began slowly, with Milan tucked in a 2-3 zone. The Big Reds struggled shooting the ball, but still held a 9-5 lead after the first quarter. Perkins went to the bench with 3:37 to go in the quarter because of foul trouble, having two fouls at that point.

Milan extended their lead to 12-5 on a Donovan Verges three-pointer with 5:53 to go in the second period. A Gardette three-point play with 4:45 to go gave the Big Reds a 15-5 lead. The Wildcats first scored with 4:20 remaining in the quarter on a layup by James. Milan then scored their next six points on offensive rebounds by Lewis and Jake Novak. A Lewis three-pointer gave the Big Reds a 27-13 lead with 1:20 to play in the half. A 15-footer by Verges gave Milan a 29-16 lead heading into the break.

With Perkins on the bench, Tropea was pleased with his team’s rebounding efforts, particularly on the offensive glass. “With Nick on the bench (in the second quarter), our guys did a great job in the paint,” he said. “Lance (Lewis) and Jake (Novak) played huge during that time.”

Unfortunately for the Big Reds, they will likely be without Novak for the rest of their playoff run. Novak hurt his right knee on the opening play of the third quarter, and had to be helped off the court. Novak attempted a pump fake on a Wayland player while making a run for a shot, and his knee buckled.

Both teams fought hard and traded baskets throughout the third quarter, as Milan’s lead varied from 8 to 15 points. Neither team was able to make a run during the period, setting up the crucial fourth quarter run by the Wildcats.

On the night, the Big Reds were led in scoring by Davis, who scored 16 points. Perkins had 14, and Lewis scored 12. Thomas Lindeman and Verges also contributed for Milan, scoring 8 and 7 points respectively.

Milan will play their next match on Friday, March 21 against Detroit Douglass. The Hurricanes (17-9) defeated Goodrich 39-28 on Tuesday night, and will be playing their first Final Four game in school history. This will be the Big Reds’ first trip to the Breslin Center since the venue that houses 14,759 opened in 1989. The game is set to tip off at 7:50 p.m.

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