East Lansing — East Kentwood dominated the first half of its Class A semifinal game against Southfield A&T, then had to hold on for a 55-51 victory Friday afternoon at Breslin Center.
Miss Basketball finalist and Michigan-bound Deja Church of Southfield A&T attacked the basket all game, but had trouble finishing. Church, a 5-foot-10 senior guard, had 26 points and 12 rebounds, but was just 8-for-34 shooting and 10-for-15 on free throws.
Sophomore forward Alexis Johnson had 13 points and 17 rebounds for Southfield A&T (22-5) which shot just 26.5 percent (18-of-68), but held a 56-46 rebounding advantage, 26-14 on the offensive end.
East Kentwood (26-1) held a 19-point lead with 4:45 left in the third and led 38-27 entering the final quarter with Church scoring having scored 16 by then, on 5-for-24 shooting.
Still, Church continued to attackand pulled Southfield A&T within 44-42 with less than 5 minutes remaining.
Church scored 10 in the final quarter to lead a 15-4 run to pull Southfield A&T within two, but East Kentwood answered with an 8-0 run of its own, taking advantage of turnovers with transition baskets.
"I had a lot of trouble finishing," Church said. "I wouldn't say I was nervous or anything, but the circumstances in the game I really didn't handle it well when we were down, I was just forcing shots.
"We just tried to shake off the first half, came out and cut the lead down to two and I thought at that point like we could get it.
"Then, after that timeout we came out a little sluggish, and they went on that run."
Corinne Jemison had 14 points and 13 rebounds for East Kentwood, with Mauriya Barnes scoring 16, including 3-for-5 on 3-pointers.
"Our defense keeps us in the game," said East Kentwood coach Jimmy Carter, noting missed layups and missed free throws hurt his team in the second half, especially failing to convert the front end of multiple one-and-ones and finishing just 9-for-24 on free throws. "We played good defense (against Church). We have three good defensive guards and play man-to-man, in your face defense."
Despite the outcome, Southfield A&T coach Michelle Marshall was pleased were her team's ability to reach the semifinals in its first-year merger of Southfield and Southfield Lathrup schools.
"They played extremely hard and have had a very good season," Marshall said. "The adversity of merging two schools, I can't speak about how proud I am of them and everything that they have given this program."
Marshall had coached Lathrup the previous 21 years, guiding Lathrup to a Class A state title in 2006. It was her first return trip to the Final Four.
"We went through our ups and downs and at the end of the day were teammates and sisters," said Church, who played her first three years at Lathrup. "In the middle of the season, things clicked and we all started playing well."
Said former Southfield guard D'Layna Holliman: "I didn't like Church at all, she was a Charger, I was a BlueJay, but I love this girl now. The team just blended in during the middle of the season and we came together. Everybody thought of us coming to the Breslin was an upset, but we didn't think it was an upset, we knew we were going to be here, that's just the mindset we had."