Tucker’s late free throws lift Marshall in Class B semi

Michael Epps
Special to The Detroit News

East Lansing — Bay City John Glenn looked to have the game in its hands after Miss Basketball finalist Cassidy Boensch knocked down two clutch free throws to take a 42-41 lead over Marshall with 14.2 seconds left.

But what happened next shocked the entire Breslin Center crowd.

“I bet you every person in the arena besides our fans thought we were going to lose that game,” Marshall coach Sal Konkle said. “I told the girls ‘I believe in you, and you need to believe in yourselves.’ And they certainly did.”

Marshall pulled off a stunning 43-42 upset Friday night over John Glenn in the Class B semifinal game. Junior forward Nicole Tucker stepped to the line with 1.4 seconds left on the clock and sunk both free throws to win it.

After the teams exchanged leads throughout the game, but the biggest lead changes came in the final minute. Boensch, a senior center and Grand Valley State commit, hit two clutch free throws after getting fouled to give John Glenn a one-point lead.

The following inbound pass was wild, and John Glenn put on a full-court press, but Marshall got the ball under the basket. After a couple layups bounced out, Tucker got the offensive rebound and was fouled by Boensch on her shot.

“I was a little nervous when the whistle blew, but my teammates talked to me and coach calmed me down and I realized I can do this,” said Tucker, who finished with 14 points and seven rebounds. “I knew I was going to put both of them in because that’s what we needed for the win.”

Both teams went back and forth most of the game and nobody could make a big swing in momentum. Marshall hit a couple big shots in the final minutes of the first quarter to take a 5-point lead into the second.

The deficit for John Glenn stayed around five for most of the quarter until senior guard Jenai LaPorte turned a switch in her game, sinking back-to-back 3-pointers and scoring nine points in the final couple minutes to put the team within one at the break.

LaPorte (Grand Valley State) stepped up and finished with 16 points. The senior’s success sputtered in the fourth quarter, though, by not scoring in the final 7:30 of the game and committing a couple key turnovers late.

“I tried to do everything I could to get the team to win,” said LaPorte. “I was playing hard and I didn’t want this to be my last game. But the cards are going to fall the way they fall. I’m really proud of our team, even though we couldn’t get it done.”

The final minute of the game put the arena in a frenzy as the girls were fighting for a spot in the state championship.

“In the last huddle I told the girls ‘after Nicki makes these, don’t foul.’ Plain and simple,” Konkle said. “I knew she was going to make them, and if we wanted anybody at the line in that situation, it’s Nicki.”

Marshall advances to face Grand Rapids South Christian in the Class B final Saturday at 6 p.m.

“It’s been a crazy tournament run this year, and I think it’s even better now that we’re going to the state finals,” Tucker said. “A lot of people didn’t think we could do it. We’re Marshall. People always say ‘Oh, where is Marshall?’ We’re in the state finals now.”

Michael Epps is a freelance writer.