ANN ARBOR — Bedford had its first of three chances to secure its first boys basketball league championship in school history Tuesday night, but Ann Arbor Pioneer had other ideas and the Kicking Mules will have to wait four nights for another shot at hanging a banner.
Despite 33 points and 10 rebounds from 6-foot-6 senior star Jackson Lamb, the Mules couldn’t hang on down the stretch in a 64-61 Southeastern Conference Red Division loss to the Pioneers, who were trying to hang on to their own hopes of a title share.
Bedford (14-3, 9-1 Red) will have another shot at clinching at least a share of the Division title at 7 p.m. Saturday at home against Saline.
“We would have loved to clinch it tonight, but we knew it wasn’t do-or-die,” second-year Bedford coach Nick Lowe said. “It was actually do-or-die for them.
“We know there’s more games to play, and now Saturday is our focus. What we have to do is be mentally tough enough not to let tonight affect Saturday.”
“It’s a blow for us because we came in with high expectations,” Lamb said, “and we kind of let ourselves down tonight.
“It’ll be exciting Saturday. It’s senior night for us against Saline, so hopefully we can clinch it for the home crowd.”
Pioneer (13-4, 8-2), tied for second place in the Red with Ann Arbor Huron, was the aggressor early on, getting the jump on Bedford to take an 18-13 lead after one quarter.
The Pioneers stretched their advantage to 11 points (33-22) on a 3-pointer from Aedon York (15 points with 2 minutes and 49 seconds left before halftime.
But the Mules closed the half with Lamb’s impressive throw-down dunk in transition, sandwiched between a pair of free throws, and Bedford went to the break trailing 37-31. Nineteen of those 31 points were supplied by Lamb, for whom the Pioneers struggled to find an answer.
“The only thing I wish we could do over is the start,” Lowe said. “We didn’t start the game with the intensity that they did. We caught up and gained that intensity, and we battled like crazy in the second half.
“Bedford then opened the third quarter with a 13-7 surge, tying the game at 44 on a driving layup from Dennis Guss [eight points] midway in the period.
Down 54-51 entering the fourth quarter, the Mules took their first lead of the game since midway in the first quarter, when Lamb floated through the lane for bucket to make it 55-54 with 6:46 remaining.
He added a free throw at the 5:53 mark for a two-point lead, but was held scoreless from there as Pioneer increased its defensive efforts on him.
When Bradley Boss (eight points) hit a 15-footer with 4:12 to play, the Mules had their last lead of the game.
Jibreel Hussein, who led the Pioneers with 17 points, tied the game with a driving bucket and then a 3-pointer with three minutes to go.
Down 63-61, Bedford had a chance to tie when Lamb fed Jeremiah Harris (six points, 11 rebounds) inside. But Harris’s lay-up try hung on the rim before falling out.
“I don’t think we looked to attack that much [late in game],” Lamb said. “We were content with the lead, and we didn’t really play Bedford basketball. I started getting face-guarded. But I probably should have stepped up and sealed the deal for us.”
Pioneer’s Duane Simpson-Redmond hit one of two free throws with 24.9 seconds left, and Bedford, which called three timeouts from there, was unable to get a final 3-point shot off in the closing seconds.
Both teams shot 49 percent from the field, with Pioneer hitting 24-of-49 and Bedford 22-of-45. The Mules outrebounded the Pioneers 34-22, but committed 19 turnovers to 11 for Pioneer.
Contact Steve Junga at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 419-724-6461 or on Twitter@JungaBlade.