In a battle of future Spartans, Loyer outlasts Tillman for MHSAA Class A state title
One future Spartan would leave the Breslin Center on Saturday with the MHSAA Class A state championship title. It was only a matter of who.
The Grand Rapids Christian Eagles (27-1 overall) were unable to complete a perfect season as the Clarkston High School Wolves (27-1 overall) earned their first-ever state championship with a clean 75-69 win. Wolves head coach Dan Fife completed his 35th year with the Wolves with an overall record of 677-169.
“It’s really unexplainable right now,” Fife said with a look of awe on his face. “I really don’t know how to put it.”
Senior forward and MSU commit Xavier Tillman tallied team-highs with 25 points, seven rebounds and four assists, but couldn’t overcome Clarkston’s perimeter offense. Junior point guard and fellow MSU commit Foster Loyer led the way for Clarkston with a game-high 29 points, and four Clarkston players finished in double-figure scoring.
“First of all, I give Clarkston a lot of credit,” Grand Rapids Christian head coach Mark Warners said. “They’re well-coached, they played great, they played hard and they responded. They were awesome tonight and we were good, but we weren’t awesome.”
The case seemed convincing for Tillman in the early stages of the first quarter. Tillman scored the first two baskets and tallied eight of Grand Rapids Christian’s 12 points in the first quarter, but Clarkston responded with four straight 3-pointers — three of which came from Loyer — to end the first quarter with the Wolves leading 20-12.
“We knew who (Loyer) was,” Warners said. “He was at the top of our scouting report. He made some shots and we miscommunicated a couple of times, but we were also right where we wanted to be and he made some shots.”
Clarkston extended its lead by as much as 12 in the second quarter, but a 10-3 run from the Eagles cut the deficit down to three points with seconds remaining before halftime. Grand Rapids Christian had buckets from junior guard Tre Vallar go from inside the post and outside the perimeter to spark the run.
The Wolves got their first field goal in more than four minutes on a buzzer-beating second chance tip in by junior guard CJ Robinson to give Clarkston a 34-29 lead at halftime.
Grand Rapids Christian connected on 8-of-11 shots in the third, but Clarkston was still able to stave off the Eagles with the help of nine baskets on 12 attempts from the field for the quarter. The Wolves once again pushed their lead to double-digits in the fourth and extended their advantage by 13 before Tillman attempted to spark a comeback.
The Eagles made 10 shots from the field in the last eight minutes but couldn’t get the rally started before Tillman’s layup with 5:40 remaining. Grand Rapids Christian was limited to just five shots from the field.
Contrary to the five turnovers Grand Rapids Christian boasted against Romulus in its semifinal matchup on Friday, the Eagles turned the ball over 10 times, resulting in 16 additional points for Clarkston — compared to the two points forced on six turnovers by Clarkston.
Foul trouble also crushed a potential comeback after senior forward James Beck II fouled out in the fourth.
By the end of the game, Grand Rapids Christian combined for 21 fouls, resulting in a 21-for-25 stint for Clarkston from the free-throw line.
“This season has been a great journey, and for my teammates and myself to come out and play well tonight and ultimately win the state championship not only means a lot to us players, as a team, as a family but getting this done for Coach Fife,” Loyer said. “That’s what we dreamed about since we started playing basketball here in Clarkston.”
As Tillman now gears toward a collegiate career with the Spartans, his words for Loyer — who still has another season of high school play left — were nothing but respectful for his future teammate.
“That’s just his game,” Tillman said. “He can shoot the ball, he can handle the ball, he can pass the ball, it’s kind of like pick your poison when it comes to Foster. When we tried to step up he would drive by, give the pump fake, get a foul — two free throws. It was hard to stop him, we couldn’t really stop him, and he’s going to be a really good player later on when he comes to Michigan State.”