HOWELL — On Tuesday, Johnny Shields had to surrender to an illness and missed the Howell basketball team’s loss to Hartland.
He missed Wednesday’s practice, too.
On Friday, with his minutes limited in the first half, he left Brighton a little green around the gills, dropping 24 points on the Bulldogs as the Highlanders clinched the KLAA West title, 69-53, at Howell High School.
“We want the same sickness he had, because he had 24 points on eight shots.” Howell coach Nick Simon joked. “We’ll take it.”
Shields hit four 3-pointers and was 12-for-13 at the line, going 6-for-6 with a pair of 3s in the fourth quarter.
“I just felt good tonight,” he said, ignoring the irony. “We weren’t that strong on defense, but we were hitting shots and we just kept rolling.”
Howell got off to a slow start on Senior Night, with Brighton taking a 14-11 lead after the first quarter.
“I like how we started,” Brighton coach Mike Griest said. “We came out and executed real well, took care of the basketball and were defensively sound.”
But the Highlanders took a deep breath between quarters, then got going, taking the lead early in the second quarter and never looking back.
“We were hyped up,” Simon said. “That’s the biggest crowed we’ve seen here in a while. It’s senior night, and I think all those emotions, you get so hyped up that you tire quickly, and I think it showed a little bit. The first quarter (Brighton) hit shots. But I think we settled down a little bit (in the second), settled into the game and played our game from there on out.”
Daniel Zolinski was part of that, too, hitting for 20 points, nine in the third quarter when Shields was held scoreless. For Zolinski, who played his first two seasons at Livingston Christian, it was his career high at Howell.
“I give full credit to my teammates for getting me open,” he said. They go through the same work that I do in practice, so they’re the ones who get me open to get those good looks.”
Griest had a different perspective.
“He can shoot 3s, if you leave him, and it’s so strong and a good driver,” he said. “And a good midrange shooter. He’s a good all around player. He doesn’t need a lot of shots to get his points. He’s in the right spot and he’s ready to launch it.”
The Highlanders had clinched the title early in the evening, when Milford lost at Pinckney in triple overtime, 81-78, but winning at home, and beating Brighton in the process, was something to savor.
“It’s great,” Shields said. “Can’t take anything away from (a makeup game) Monday at Grand Blanc, but it’s definitely something to celebrate. Twenty-one years and we finally clinched it. That’s a big deal.”
Monday’s contest was originally postponed by weather last month, and Simon sees it as coming at a good time for his team.
“Originally, we were off until Friday (when the KLAA tournament begins), and I think you start thinking of yourself a little too highly,” he said. “But we’ll hit the ground running on Sunday. We’ve got to get a good practice in and get ready for Grand Blanc. think that’s the only way you go far and accomplish your goals, is to enjoy them when the season’s done.”