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Madness of matchups: Marquette Senior High School needs Kam Karp’s buzzer-beater to defeat Gaylord in supposed boys basketball district mismatch

Marquette junior guard Lincoln Sager, right, looks for options as Gaylord’s Riley Gapinski defends in their MHSAA Division 1 district tournament semifinal game played at Marquette Senior High School’s Barb Crill Gymnasium on Wednesday night. (Journal photo by Ryan Spitza)

“(Gaylord) didn’t come out like the team we saw the last time we played them. They proved themselves to be a worthy opponent.” — Kameron Karp, junior, Marquette Senior High School boys basketball

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MARQUETTE — March Madness most likely serves up plenty of thrillers, surprises and upsets.

Wednesday didn’t look like it would be one of them at Marquette Senior High School’s Barb Crill Gymnasium.

After pummeling three-win Gaylord 77-42 in its regular season finale less than two weeks ago, the Redmen, with just three losses, were expected to make quick work of their MHSAA Division 1 district semifinal.

As Marquette head coach Brad Nelson said after his team’s opening-game win over Petoskey on Monday, however, records and previous scores can be — should be — tossed out the window come tournament time.

The Blue Devils proved that for all 32 minutes Wednesday, taking the Redmen all the way to the brink and only surrendering the lead to the home team twice.

Unfortunately for Gaylord, the second time Marquette took the lead came at the final buzzer when junior Kam Karp banked a 3-pointer off the backboard and in as time expired to send the Redmen into the district finals with a 60-57 victory.

Marquette visits Traverse City Central (19-3) on Friday to contend for its second consecutive district championship. The Trojans still stand as the Redmen’s last loss on Jan. 24. MSHS has since exploded for a 12-game winning streak, improving to 19-3 on the season with their latest win.

Tied at 57-57 and Marquette possessing the ball coming out of a timeout with five seconds to go, senior John Thomson inbounded the ball to Karp. The intended play broke down, forcing Karp to shoot a triple from the right wing as the final seconds ticked off. The shot appeared long, but fortunately for MSHS, it went off the glass and in to send the crowd home happy.

“The play was to get a ball screen and look for Ty (Lotterman) rolling off of it,” Karp said. “I stopped and I didn’t see anyone open. In the heat of the moment, it’s hard because you worry about not giving up the ball. At that time, I said ‘All right, I’m just going to throw it up and if I don’t make it, we go to overtime.’ But somehow, that ended up going in.”

Karp, named Great Northern Conference Player of the Year just a few days earlier, said it was easily one of the biggest shots he’s ever made at a competitive level.

“It was also one of the ugliest because I don’t think the game should’ve been that close in the first place,” he said. “(Gaylord) didn’t come out like the team we saw the last time we played them. They proved themselves to be a worthy opponent.”

Gaylord (3-18) pulled out to an eye-opening 20-9 lead after one quarter thanks in part to four triples, three coming from Blue Devils senior Kyler McKenzie. The visitors also held an 11-point lead at the half, 30-19.

“At halftime we went in and said it’s a new half, let’s start playing Marquette basketball,” Karp said. “We did an OK job of that in the second half, but there’s still a lot we need to improve on come Friday.”

As far as Karp’s heroics, Thomson said he knew the shot was in the entire way.

“We had a play designed but it got a little funky,” he said. “We were all looking at Kam like ‘Hey, you did it once before, you may as well just do it again.’ Sure enough, he did.

“I knew it was in. I knew once he shot it, it was in. I was sitting under the rim and I was like, ‘That’s money.’ I had confidence in Kam making that shot.”

Marquette opened the third quarter with consecutive 3s from Thomson and Karp to quickly cut its deficit to five points. The Redmen tied the game four times in the third, but Gaylord answered the call on every occasion. The Blue Devils clung to a 47-46 lead after three quarters.

Thomson finally gave the Redmen their first lead of the night after nabbing a steal and bringing it down the floor for an easy layup to put MSHS up 57-55 with two minutes to play.

With 1:16 remaining, a putback shot from Gaylord 6-foot-10 senior big man Cordell LaRose knotted the score at 57-57. The Redmen ran the clock down from there and called two timeouts before Karp hit his buzzer-beater.

Karp finished with 20 points to lead MSHS scorers, followed by Lotterman with 19. Junior Lincoln Sager added 14 while Thomson finished with seven.

Lotterman picked up 13 of the Redmen’s 31 rebounds.

McKenzie led the Blue Devils with 19 points while LaRose added 14. Junior Corey Deer chipped in 13.

Nelson said his team was triumphant after a lackluster first half, and his team will need to quickly shake this one off before facing the Trojans on Friday.

“They outplayed us for 16 minutes and we put ourselves into a bad situation at halftime,” he said. “Give credit to Gaylord. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. We went down there and took it to them pretty good, but we knew they were going to have a different game plan.

“I kind of anticipated some sort of zone and they did that. We weren’t patient enough in the first half against it and they were hitting shots. Our defense was losing guys and the communication wasn’t there.

“Whether it’s high school kids overlooking this opponent to possibly play on a Friday … but Friday doesn’t happen if you don’t win (today).”

Central topped Marquette 65-55 in the regular season and defeated rival Traverse City West 47-37 in the other semifinal on Wednesday night.

Nelson said the difference between this time and the last is that his team has been playing much better as of late.

“Minus (tonight), we’ve been playing pretty well,” he said. “They’re a long, athletic team. They can shoot. Defensively, we’re going to have to tidy things up a little bit. We’ll work on that in practice.”

Tipoff between Marquette and TC Central is 6 p.m. Friday at Traverse City Central High School.

Email Ryan Spitza at sports@miningjournal.net.

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