HOUGHTON LAKE -- Muskegon Heights junior guard Deontae Hudson was looking to pass the ball to a teammate as the final seconds tolled off the clock in overtime Tuesday. Hudson couldn't find anyone open, so he took the shot himself, a long rainbow of a 3-pointer just before the buzzer sounded.
The shot went in, hitting nothing but net, and Muskegon Heights was a sudden 61-58 victor over Petoskey in the Class B quarterfinals at Houghton Lake. As the Tiger players, coaches and fans ran onto the floor and began celebrating wildly, the stunned Petoskey players slowly and sadly made their way through the crowd. The long playoff run was over for the Northmen and so was the season.
"I couldn't be prouder of this group of guys," Petoskey coach Dennis Starkey said. "Not only for this game, but for the whole season. It was a true team effort, we had contributions from everybody."
Petoskey (23-2) battled tooth and claw to stay in the game after top scorer Cory Starkey went down with a twisted ankle midway through the third quarter. Starkey returned in the fourth, though clearly not at 100 percent. When Starkey left the floor, Petoskey trailed by a point, 32-31. When he came back nearly seven minutes later, the score was tied at 41.
In his absence, sophomore Zak Lewis and senior Grant Tracy hit back-to-back 3-pointers to pick up the slack and junior forward Nick Manzer came off the bench to score the tying bucket.
"That's been the case for the team all season," coach Starkey said. "Different people made big plays when we needed them after Cory went down."
Muskegon Heights (21-4) coach Keith Guy expected his team to create separation on the scoreboard after Starkey went down. When it didn't happen, he told his players they would have to win a close one.
"I knew Starkey would be back; he's a tough kid and this is a huge game," Guy said. "I thought we would create some separation when he was out but we didn't. When he came in with the score tied, I knew this one was going to the wire. I wasn't surprised when it went to overtime."
Petoskey led 53-50 in the final minute of regulation after Lewis drained a pair of free throws, but the Tigers' Jamil Thornton nailed a clutch 3-pointer with 24 seconds left to tie the score. Both teams had chances to score in the final seconds but neither could connect. Jullian Plummer made a critical steal of an inbounds pass for the Tigers with 6.8 seconds left to help force the overtime.
In the extra session, Muskegon Heights led by three, 58-55, with less than a minute remaining before Lewis dialed in from long distance to tie the score at 58.
The Tigers played for the final shot, with Guy calling a timeout to design a play intended for either Thornton or Plummer cutting to the basket. Hudson had the ball well outside the arc and watched futilely as neither of his teammates could pry away from Petoskey's defenders.
"The first two options were to Jamil or Plummer but neither one of them was open," Hudson said. "When the clock got under 2 seconds, I knew I had to shoot. I kind of forced the shot and didn't know if it would go in or not. When it did, it was a great feeling."
"We had three options on the play," Guy said. "The big thing there was to take the final shot and not give them a chance to score. Deontrae held the ball as long as he could and took the shot himself when he couldn't pass it to anybody. I watched the ball and said, 'Lord, please let it go in.' It was a happy feeling when it did."
Guy said he expected a dogfight from Petoskey and got just that.
"They were ranked higher than we were, so I knew this would be a dogfight," he said. "We came here knowing this was a great team we were facing and we had to be ready. It's too bad one team had to lose because it was a great game and a great effort by both sides."
Coach Starkey agreed. "I feel good that we left it all on the court," he said. "I said it would take a heck of a team to knock us out and that team was."
Starkey paced the Northmen with 18 points, including three after gamely returning to the floor on his tender right ankle. He also pulled down eight boards. Senior forward Joe Keedy tallied 11 with nine rebounds while Lewis and Nick Moore each scored eight. Tracy had five assists and five points.
Hudson and Thornton each scored 17 for the Tigers and Thornton had five connections from 3-point land.