BY DAN STICKRADT
DAVISON — Clarkston proved once again that the best offense is a great defense.
The Wolves simply suffocated Saginaw Tuesday night in the Class A state quarterfinals at Davison High School, which led to plenty of quick offense.
Clarkston forced 15 turnovers and limited the Trojans to just 35.9 percent shooting from the floor (19-for-53), including just 25 percent from three-point range (6-for-24), in posting an impressive 70-50 victory over Saginaw.
The victory was not only Clarkston’s first postseason win over Saginaw since 1980 — a 45-44 state quarterfinals victory — but the triumph also sends the third-ranked Wolves (25-1) into the Class A Final Four for only the third time in school history.
Clarkston will face fellow OAA Red Division foe West Bloomfield (17-8) in the state semifinals at 1 p.m. Friday at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center.
The Wolves defeated West Bloomfield twice in league play (59-48 on Jan. 31 and 68-61 on Feb. 28).
“I’m so happy for the kids, because for them it’s their first time playing in a quarterfinal and it will be their first time in the (Final Four),” smiled veteran Clarkston coach Dan Fife, who recorded career win No. 675. “I mean in my 35 years (as head coach) here it’s only the second time we’ve got to the semis and third time overall. We’ve played in a lot of quarterfinal games (as a program) but came up short a lot of those years.”
Defense was the key to Clarkston’s dominating effort.
“I thought our defense was really good. It allowed us to get out and score in transition and that led to some easy baskets,” continued Fife. “I thought our defense was really good at times. We haven’t beaten Saginaw very many times over the years. It feels great to beat a program like Saginaw.”
Clarkston improved to 3-10 all-time in state quarterfinal contests. The Wolves had lost to Saginaw in the state quarterfinals in 2008, 2007 and 2005.
Not this time.
“We tried to stop (Foster) Loyer, but we couldn’t stop him. They have a lot of weapons besides him, too,” sighed Saginaw coach Julian Taylor. “They are a very good team. Their defense caused us a lot of problems. They defended our dribble drive really well. They scouted us really well. I implemented a few new things, but we just couldn’t get going.”
Saginaw carried a 15-1 all-time state quarterfinals record into the contest, having captured six state titles (1942, 1962, 1996, 2007, 2008 and 2012) and four state runner-up trophies dating back to the 1940s.
The Trojans were left playing on their heals most of the night thanks to Clarkston’s length, aggression and defensive pressure on the ball.
Saginaw (21-5) led 2-0 at the 7:04 mark, only to see Clarkston respond with an 8-0 run and eventually lead 18-12 at the end of the first quarter.
Clarkston, behind the stellar play of Loyer, senior forward Dylan Alderson and pesky junior guard C.J. Robinson, outscored the Trojans 17-7 in the second frame for a 35-19 halftime advantage.
In fact, it took a half-court heave at the halftime buzzer by Saginaw senior guard RonQuavious Southward for the Trojans to avoid complete disaster.
The Wolves’ defense swarmed Saginaw into ill-advised shots in the first half, forcing eight turnovers and swiping the ball six times — four by Robinson — for the 16-point halftime advantage. In the second half, Clarkston maintained a double-digit lead throughout.
An uncharacteristic three straight Clarkston turnovers and a pair of three-pointers by junior forward Anthony Sanders and Southward cut the Saginaw deficit down to 13 points (50-37) with 4:59 to play.
The Wolves responded with a dunk and three-point play from backup 6-foot-6 junior forward Tristen Mysen and another three-point play by Robinson to push the lead back up to 56-37 with 4:30 remaining.
Clarkston, which outscored Saginaw 24-21 in the fourth quarter, led by as many as 24 points (68-44) in the final two minutes before pulling its starters.
Loyer finished with a game-high 27 points and four assists to pace Clarkston, but was far from a one-man show.
The 6-foot-5 Alderson, headed for Wisconsin-Milwaukee, added 21 points, four rebounds and three assists, while Robinson was spectacular on both ends of the court by contributing 13 points, seven rebounds, four steals and four assists for Clarkston.
The Wolves made only one three-pointer (1-for-7) on the night but still shot 54.4 percent from the floor (25-for-46) and 76 percent from the foul line (19-for-25).
“Foster had a really good game ball-handling and we got a lot of really good looks at the basket,” said Fife. “I thought our length caused problems for us and CJ Robinson did a lot of nice things for us. He picked up some steals and he’s a (No. 2) point guard for us behind Foster, but he does a lot of things out on the court for us. He’s a second-year starter and Foster is a third-year starter. We have a ton of experience at the guard position and it showed in a big game like this.”
Clarkston also out-rebounded Saginaw 28-21.
Senior forward Henry Speight scored 19 with six rebounds for Saginaw. Southward also reached double figures with 13 points for the Trojans.
“Clarkston is one of the best teams we’ve played this year, along with (Flint) Carman-Ainsworth,” added Taylor. “Their defense is really good. I wish them well in the (Final Four). They deserve it. Clarkston is always a really good program.”