Southview's Allen Gant celebrates as stunned Central Catholic players and fans watch after the Cougars got the win at Savage Arena.
The Cinderella torch of the Division I boys basketball tournament was passed from Central Catholic to the Southview Cougars Thursday night at Savage Arena.
Central (17-5), which made a surprising run to the state semifinals last season, saw its 2012 tourney cut short in a 49-43 upset loss to Southview (11-12), which won its first ever district semifinal.
"I don't think our guys are surprised," Southview coach Marc Jump said. "It's a two-game tournament over three days, and we just told them we had to win the first one to get to the second one."
The Cougars will meet fifth-ranked Whitmer (20-2) for the D-I district championship Saturday at 7 p.m.
Southview, which lost to Central 66-55 last month, reached this district test by beating City League champion Rogers last Friday.
Whitmer, which was upset in a slow-down game by the Irish in last year's district semifinal here, started slowly before catching fire in the second half to take a 43-38 victory over St. John's Jesuit (15-7) in the first semifinal.
Three key stats told the story of Southview's big win.
The Cougars went 7-of-13 from 3-point range, outrebounded the bigger Irish 26-20, and Central was its own worst enemy by going a woeful 7-of-21 at the foul line.
"We needed all of that," Jump said. "When they beat us earlier in the year, they outrebounded us. And, we're small, so we've got to make shots."
Southview shot 50 percent from the field (16-of-32).
Allen Gant, a four-year starter for the Cougars, led the way with 15 points and a game-high 10 rebounds.
"We just had to come out and play hard," Gant said. "We felt like we really had nothing to lose. We were the underdogs coming in, and it's a good feeling to get this win."
Cougar Brandon Sinram mixed three timely 3-pointers into his 11-point effort, and Jordan Hunt tallied 10 points. Another key was the play of Southview guard Chris Johnson, who was a pest on defense and grabbed seven rebounds.
The Cougars trailed 11-7 after one quarter, but caught some momentum to take a 23-18 halftime lead. Southview maintained that five-point edge after three quarters, then held off Central, which got as close as 41-39 with 2:43 remaining.
Danielle Turner paced the Irish with 16 points, and teammate Keith Towbridge added 10.
Whitmer's Leroy Alexander grabs the ball in a heap of players as St. John's Jesuit player DJ Bonds (14) left, moves in during the second quarter.
For Whitmer, advancing was a tale of two starkly contrasting halves.
Flat through two quarters, the Panthers trailed 17-13 at the break.
But halftime speeches sometimes do wonders, and the one Whitmer coach Bruce Smith delivered apparently worked.
Behind its leaders -- 6-7 junior Nigel Hayes and 6-1 senior LeRoy Alexander -- Whitmer stormed out on a game-changing 9-0 run to open the third quarter.
Alexander sparked that surge with a 3-pointer plus a 15-footer, Hayes added two free throws and converted a three-point play, and Ricardo Smith netted two free throws at 5:02 of the third for a 22-17 Panther lead.
"We weren't very happy at halftime scoring 13 points," Smith said. "We were pretty passive at both ends. To come out in the third quarter and get [nine] points to their none was big. It got us confidence.
"We did a good job of putting people in position to score. When we get Nigel the ball under the basket on the left side, he's pretty good. That's what we attempted to do. And, I think LeRoy sensed a little bit of urgency being a senior and being down four at halftime. He had a great third and fourth quarter as well."
Although the Titans (15-7) would answer to regain the lead 28-27 by the third quarter's end, and led 31-27 when Anthony Glover (9 points) drained a 3-pointer 14 seconds into the fourth, Whitmer's two go-to guys took over down the stretch.
Hayes, who also grabbed seven rebounds, scored nine of his game-high 18 points in the final period, hitting all seven of his free-throw attempts.
"We came out a little relaxed on defense in the first half, and coach Smith beat it into our heads that we needed to come out and pick up our intensity on defense," Hayes said.
Alexander added five of his 14 points in the final 6:47.
Marc Loving led St. John's with 10 points, and Austin Gardner added nine points and seven rebounds.
"We were up four [at halftime] and thought it was a comfortable situation for us, but boy we had trouble getting going in the second half," Titans coach Ed Heintschel said. "Some of it was their defense, and some of it was us. That really defined the game by and large.
They forced us into a situation where we had to foul. We've had those lulls all year long, and our defense hasn't really been enough to pull us through those things."