Anchor Bay boys basketball players celebrate with the team's Division 1 district championship trophy after a 54-49 March 1 win over Macomb Dakota.

Anchor Bay boys basketball players celebrate with the team's Division 1 district championship trophy after a 54-49 March 1 win over Macomb Dakota.

Photo by Jason Carmel Davis

Anchor Bay boys basketball downs Dakota, wins first district title in 30 years

By: Jason Carmel Davis | Online Only | Published March 1, 2019

MACOMB TOWNSHIP — Anchor Bay boys basketball coach Jim Barnes early in a March 1 Division 1 district final against Macomb Dakota could be heard yelling out his gameplan from the sideline.

"We'll hold the ball the entire quarer," Barnes said during his team's second offensive possession.

Barnes said he came into the game looking to limit the Cougars possessions, as Dakota can go on big runs in a hurry.

Barnes also added he and his team didn't go into the game thinking about winning.

"We just wanted to hang around as long as we could," said Barnes, in his second year leading the program.

That blueprint worked, as the Tars upended Dakota 54-49 in the March 1 district final. 

Anchor Bay (14-9) trailed for all but 29 minutes, eight seconds of game time. The Tars led for the final 2:52. A 3-pointer by senior forward Riley Vermander at that point put Anchor Bay ahead for good. Vermander led Anchor Bay with 23 points and made five 3-pointers.

The win gives the Tars their first district championship since 1989. This season is just Anchor Bay's second winning season in the last 25 years. Anchor Bay advances to meet Clinton Township Chippewa Valley in a regional semifinal at 4 p.m. March 5 at Anchor Bay. Chippewa Valley beat Sterling Heights Stevenson 39-36 in a March 1 district final.

"This is the best group of kids I could've asked for," Barnes said. "All of them have bought into what we've been trying to coach and this is just a product of that. This is a great moment for these boys and this program."

Tars senior forward Ethan Swarts scored 18 points, including the team's last five. Swarts threw up a shot and hit it while being fouled and hit the free throw with 1:11 left to put Anchor Bay up 52-47. Swarts said two more free throws with 10.1 seconds left to put the team up 54-49. Dakota junior guard Joey Tocco, who scored 12 points, had drained two free throws to cut the Tars lead to three with 16.6 seconds remaining.

Swarts in the fourth quarter was five of five from the foul line. 

"We knew (Dakota) was a good team with a lot of good athletes, so we were going to have to come out and outwork and outhustle them," Swarts said. 

The Cougars (15-7) looked to be in control early, taking a 14-5 lead after the first quarter. Dakota led 23-14 late in the second quarter before Anchor Bay closed the half on a 6-0 run.

The Cougars looked to regain the edge in the third quarter, with an 8-0 run to go up 33-26. Anchor Bay tied the game 38-38 with 10 seconds left in the frame on a 3-pointer from senior guard Jaylon Smelser. Dakota senior Mark Tocco, who led the team with 15 points, hit a shot just before the buzzer to give his team a 40-38 advantage heading into the fourth quarter.

The Cougars, playing for a sixth straight district championship, led by five points on two occasions in the fourth. The Tars closed the game on a 14-4 run.

(Anchor Bay) was well-coached. They got some open shots and they knocked them down," Dakota coach Paul Tocco said. "Sometimes things aren't going to go your way and tonight just wasn't our night."

Dakota junior wing Ryan Rollins, who Tocco called the team's best player, attempted to play extended minutes for the first time since suffering an injury seven weeks ago. Rollins was limited in terms of mobility, and that hurt the team, Tocco said.

Dakota loses eight players to graduation, including Mark Tocco. The Cougars have eight players eligible to return next season, including four starters.