DETROIT — As if the last 48 hours were not enough of a rollercoaster ride for the Detroit Cass Tech boys basketball team, Thursday night’s Detroit Public School League semifinal against Detroit Communication Media Arts had its share of ups and downs as well.
Yet, when it mattered most, Cass Tech senior and Mr. Basketball hopeful Tyson Acuff stepped up for three-straight clutch baskets in the final 3:24 to lift the Technicians to a 53-44 win over CMA.
“It was nothing we weren’t prepared for,” Acuff said. “Box-and-one, we were suspecting that. The were going to deny me all game but we’ve still got ways to work around that,” Acuff said. “It was expected.”
With Cass Tech leading just 55-44 with under 3:30 to play, Acuff pulled up and hit a transition 3-point shot to extend the lead. It was Acuff’s first 3-pointer of the game too.
“I was thinking about going to the basket, but they played back and played like I was going to the basket,” Acuff said. “So, I decided to pull up for the three.”
The deep bucket flipped a switch for Acuff as he led Cass Tech to the finish line.
Following Acuff’s 3-pointer, CMA missed on the other end, which led to an Acuff basket to give Cass Tech a 50-44 lead with 2:43 left. CMA missed again on the next possession and Cass Tech ran the clock down before the Pharaohs fouled on the floor with 1:21 left. Then, Acuff put an exclamation point on the win for the Technicians when he slammed home a dunk after getting open on the ensuing inbound pass.
“I could sit here and say my kid is better than this kid, but his body of work speaks for itself,” said Cass Tech coach Steve Hall of Acuff. “You saw what he did in the closing moments of the game. It’s gotten to the point where we expect him to step up and take over in the closing moments of games. That’s who he is.
“In my biased opinion, I think he’s comfortably the best player in Michigan. That’s with all due respect to the other guys. I’m with him every day. I have seen what he can do.”
Acuff finished the game with 17 points.
The win sends Cass Tech (16-1) to the PSL title game on Friday night at Calihan Hall on the campus of the University of Detroit Mercy for a matchup against Detroit Douglass at 7:30 p.m. Cass Tech will look to defend its 2019 title and claim its third city title in four years.
Just 48 hours ago, however, Cass Tech did not think it would have a chance to defend its title.
The game between Cass Tech and CMA (12-4) was supposed to be played at Cass Tech on Tuesday night. However, the Detroit Public Schools Community District said the Technicians would have to forfeit the game for using an academically ineligible player in its previous game.
Cass Tech appealed, and it was determined that the player in question was eligible and there had been a misinterpretation of information. On Wednesday, the game was announced to be rescheduled for the evening, but it was changed once again to Thursday night at East English Village Prep.
“It’s just been a rollercoaster,” Hall said. “I just tried to tell my guys, control what you can control and be ready when called upon. You know, it’s always there’s someone who has conditions worse than yours. That’s kind of what we talked about. It’s the playoffs. It’s the PSL. If you concentrate on thing you can’t control than the things you can control, you end up getting bested.
“It was a trying last 48 hours, but once the time had come to perform and do what we could control, we did a good job of that.”
With the initial announcement of Cass Tech’s forfeit on Tuesday night, CMA was celebrating its first PSL championship berth in program history. However, when the announcement came on Wednesday that the game against Cass Tech was going to be played, CMA coach Derrick Edwards had to reel in his players and their emotions.
“The last 48 hours have been an up-and-down roller coaster,” Edwards said. “Tuesday night, you know what I’m saying, it was released that we were going to be in the city championship, so of course the guys were celebrating … Then we got a phone call that Wednesday that we got news that we had to play. We just had to bring the guys down and get a little sense of reality and had to prepare ourselves to play this game.
“We were prepared Tuesday and we kind of lost our focus. We readjusted yesterday, and as you can see, we came out and we gave Cass Tech a good game.”
Cass Tech watched a 33-23 third-quarter lead disappear as CMA battled back to take its first lead of the game with 5:41 to play when Jeremiah Henderson hit a jumper to give the Pharaohs a 41-40 lead. Henderson would strike on the next CMA possession from deep to give CMA the lead again, 44-43. After Cass Tech’s Duane Wright gave Cass Tech the 45-44 lead, Acuff took over.
While CMA made its comeback, Cass Tech was 2-for-14 to open the second half.
“(We had to) trust our teammates,” Acuff said. “Knocking down shots, we’re going to take care of the ball, all of that. Just the chemistry we’ve got, it’s already there.”
As heroic as Acuff’s effort was at the end of the game, Cass Tech junior Kalen King was the hero to open the night for the Technicians. King scored 13 of his 21 points in the first quarter, hitting four 3-pointers in the opening period.
“I love Kalen,” Acuff said. “He’s a football player but he’s a great shooter, actually … we depend on him a lot.”
CMA was led in scoring by the 14 points collected by Cordairo Miles while Henderson finished with 10 points.
As if there was not enough drama surrounding the game heading in, the game was called with 39.2 seconds left when a dispute between a Cass Tech player and Edwards on the court during free-throws caused the referees to pause the game.
After the whistles, some fans made a move toward the floor, with one appearing to briefly enter the court. However, police and security on the scene intervened and prevented any escalation. There were no physical altercations as a result.
Some fans and CMA staff were getting into shouting matches behind the CMA bench. Once it all diffused, the players stood near center court looking willing to finish the game, but the referees decided to call it with 39.2 still on the clock.
“I would like to apologize, myself, first because I did kind of lose my composure,” Edwards said. “I told the refs that the one particular (Cass Tech) player was talking to my bench in the first quarter. In the fourth quarter when the game was in the balance, he kind of started yapping to the bench again. As you could see, I didn’t go out there in a very aggressive manner. And I did talk to that kid in the handshake line and I apologized to him because I was totally wrong.”