by BRYAN EVERSON
A strong second quarter and a heavy dose of Dante Candela ended up being just enough to keep the Eagles flying Tuesday night.
Eisenhower got a game-high 23 points out of the junior guard to score a 64-56 win over Grosse Pointe South and improve to 8-7 overall and 4-6 in the MAC Red.
“This was a big game for us even though our record’s not very good because we’re trying to sneak into that MAC Tournament,” Eisenhower coach Dave Schwesinger said. “We knew we had to win tonight.”
The Blue Devils (9-6, 4-5 MAC Red) jumped out to a 7-0 start and maintained a five-point lead on the hosts early on, but a 3-pointer from senior Matt Donahue helped turned the tide. Ike began to successfully jump the passing lanes, generating 15 of South’s 20 turnovers before halftime thanks to steals leading to fast-break points, all part of a 14-2 run spanning into the second quarter.
“We came out a little flat the first couple minutes, and after that [we] turned it up on defense,” Schwesinger said. “[The turnovers we forced] turned into some easy buckets and kids settled down and did a good job. Up top, when we’re running around and they’re throwing passes flat across the top, those were good jumps [of the passing lanes] for us.” Candela, the scoring benefactor of some of those turnovers, hit a 3- pointer late in the second quarter, and Billy Krempa knocked down one of his own with seven seconds on the clock before halftime to send Ike into the lockers sporting a 33-23 lead.
After South came charging out of the break with a 5-0 spurt, the Eagles were able to lean on Candela to hold them at bay, and he scored twice at the end of the quarter, each time using crafty moves to get inside, helping to pad the Ike lead back up to eight points by the end of the third.
The Eagles steadily improved in rebounding as the game wore on, but had to be wary in terms of positioning for hopeful turnovers.
“There’s spots on the court that are subjective for us to jump [passes], then there’s ones where there’s no help [defense] if you do jump,” Schwesinger said.
“Down in the block we were gambling in some spots we shouldn’t have and they got some layups, and more importantly they got some fouls and got us in foul trouble on those.”
Ike ultimately managed to stave off a fourth-quarter charge. When the Blue Devils closed it to four, Candela and Krempa helped push it back to eight with 5:42 remaining. Again, a fadeaway baseline jumper by Josh Adams and s pair of turnovers each leading to inside buckets by Brennen Buszka cut the Eagles’ lead to just two, but Donahue, who had been battling foul trouble late in the game, stroked a 3-pointer in front of the Ike bench to extend the lead back to five with 3:31 remaining.
The Eagles’ 10-of-14 free-throw shooting helped maintain the lead in the final minutes, and although a few of those misses came in the closing moments, Ike was able to twice grab offensive rebounds to thwart South from capitalizing on the mistakes.
Along with Candela (10-of-17 field goals), Donahue and Mickovski joined him in double-figures for Eisenhower with 12 and 10 points, respectively.
Buszka, a senior forward, led South with team-highs of 24 points and 11 rebounds.
Eisenhower next travels to Lake Orion for a non-league matchup on Monday before the start of the MAC Tournament, which includes the top four teams from the division, and kicks off next Thursday.
In the girls’ MAC Tournament, which follows the same format, Dakota, the No. 3 seed in the Red, will host the White’s No. 2 team, Eisenhower, on Friday night. At the other end of the bracket, Utica, who finished third in the White, will travel to face Port Huron Northern. The winner of that game would go on to face whoever emerges from the matchup between Ford and Grosse Pointe North.
Semifinals for the Red-White will be held on Tuesday, and the title game will take place next Saturday.
In the Blue-Gold Division Tourney, Chippewa Valley, a two-seed in the Blue, will host Center Line Friday night, and would advance to face the winner of Marine CityFitzgerald with a victory.
The Blue-Gold title game will also be held Saturday at Dakota.