De La Salle Collegiate has more losses than any other team in Division 1 basketball’s last four.
It doesn’t matter to DeCorion Temple.
“They’re a great team,” said the Orchard Lake St. Mary’s center. “I think they’ll take it all.”
Temple has seen a lot of drivers this season.
The Catholic League rivals played two Central Division games – OLSM won both, including one in double overtime – and again on Tuesday when De La Salle won 50-48 on the return of Triston Nichols at the buzzer in the quarter-finals at Calihan Hall.
“Every Catholic League team we play against, we know it’s going to be tough,” Temple said. “At the end, the ball came in for them. Kudos to them.
De La Salle takes an 18-7 record against Grand Rapids Northview (25-1) in a semifinal game that begins at noon Friday at the Breslin Center. Defending champion Grand Blanc (20-5) faces Belleville (19-6) in the other semi-final at 2 p.m.
The Pilots have won five straight, all in the playoffs, to forge a historically significant season despite finishing fourth in the Central Division.
De La Salle is the third men’s team from Macomb County and the first from Division 1/Class A to make back-to-back semi-final appearances.
Lake Shore and New Haven did it in Class B — the Shorians in 1993 and 1994 and the Rockets in 2017 and 2018.
Last season, De La Salle lost to Ann Arbor Huron in the semifinals.
“Hopefully we’ll get the job done now,” coach Gjon Djokaj said. “We are now reaching our peak, and hopefully we have two more (victories) in us.”
A victory over Northview and in the championship game which begins at noon Saturday would make De La Salle the county’s third state title winner.
Lake Shore won in 1994 and New Haven in 2017.
St. Mary’s looked set to beat the Pilots three in a row when Trey McKenney’s two free throws gave the Eagles a game-leading 43-36 lead with 3:50 remaining.
But on De La Salle’s next possession, senior Tamario Adley sank a 3-pointer off the top of the key to spark a 12-3 run that gave the Pilots a 48-46 lead with 65 seconds left.
After West Michigan rookie JaVaughn Hannah made two free throws for a tie 48 with 40.6 seconds remaining, DLS played for the final shot – which turned out to be a 3-pointer that missed the rim.
The 6-foot-4 Nichols slid to the low side basket, grabbed an unchallenged rebound and scored just feet past the DLS student section, who then led a euphoric celebration for a cathartic victory.
“We knew it was going to be a battle from the start,” Nichols said.
“Their talent level is through the roof,” added Djokaj. “We knew we had our work cut out.”
Six of De La Salle’s seven losses have come against Central Division teams, including Detroit Catholic Central, UD Jesuit and Brother Rice.
Every division team has been ranked at least once in the Michigan Associated Press weekly poll of the top 10 teams.
OLSM was No. 2, UD Jesuit fourth and Brother Rice ninth in the final poll.
But De La Salle is the only central team still playing for a state championship.
“We lost a few games,” Djokaj said, “but we haven’t reinvented any part of our attack or our defense – just our relationships within our group.
“Now we fly.”
The Michigan High School Athletic Association uses Michigan power ratings to create teams for district tournaments.
De La Salle has the highest MPR – it is calculated using a team’s winning percentage, their opponents’ winning percentage and their opponents’ winning percentage – of the remaining teams in Division 1.
The pilots are at .660, Grand Blanc .648, Northview .604 and Belleville .576.
Menominee, a Division 3 semifinalist with a 17-3 record, has an MPR of 0.729, leading the state in any division.
Will the strength of the driver program make a difference this weekend?
“Breslins back to back – wow,” said junior guard Nino Smith. “It’s an incredible feeling, something I will never forget.”