Grand Rapids – Southfield A&T came out with tremendous energy, jumping out to a 20-point first-half lead, then held on for a 54-50 victory over Muskegon and Miss Basketball finalist Alyza Winston in a Division 1 state semifinal Friday at Van Noord Arena.
A&T – 24-1 and ranked No. 2 in The Detroit News Super 20 – will face defending state champion and No. 6 Southfield Heritage in Saturday’s 12:15 p.m. championship game.
While A&T played at a high level to take a 25-5 lead, No. 15 Muskegon (21-5) was having a nightmare of a start, missing its first 13 shots and 19 of its first 20.
Senior forward Alexis Johnson (Marshall) set the tempo for A&T, scoring 10 to help her team take the 20-point lead with senior guard Soleil Barnes (Toledo) accounting for eight, including two 3-pointers, and 6-3 junior center Jasmine Worthy chipping in with six points and three blocks.
“It was a tough game,” said A&T coach Michele Marshall, who guided Southfield Lathrup to the Class A state championship in the fall of 2005. “We were up at halftime big, but when you get to the Final Four you know that a team is always going to make a run, so I’m just really proud of the way my young ladies stayed the course.”
Winston and Muskegon – which shot just 16.7 percent (5-of-30) in the first half, including 1-of-11 3-pointers – put a major scare on A&T in the second half when it made 12-of-30 shots, held a 20-15 rebounding advantage, 10-5 on the offensive end, and forced eight turnovers with its full-court pressure.
In fact, after Muskegon’s De’shonna Day made a 3-pointer to pull within 52-50 with 50 seconds left, Muskegon forced a turnover and had the ball with a chance to pull even or take the lead, but Winston drove the lane and traveled with 16.5 seconds remaining with Worthy standing in her path.
“Having been to the Final Four and winning the championship I know that defense makes a difference,” Marshall said. “We were able to play really hard in the second half and come across and force a very difficult move for her (Winston), and our weak-side defense was very good. When we play defense the way we played in that last possession it becomes very difficult to get easy shots.”
Johnson finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds with Barnes (Toledo) and junior guard Cheyenne McEvans each scoring 12. Barnes making two free throws with 6.7 seconds left for the 54-50 lead.
“I would say we hung on at the end because we just wanted it (more),” said McEvans, who was a starter on A&T’s state semifinal team two years ago that lost to East Kentwood 55-51. “We had to all talk to each other and keep each other in the game.
“Jasmine Worthy, who forced the travel at the end of the game, told me, ‘If she (Winston) comes in I’m going to take a charge,’ so she just knew defensively that we had to stay locked in, and her going for the charge ended up causing Winston to travel.”
Johnson said the experience of playing in that semifinal loss two years ago was a factor in the win this time around.
“When we lost two years ago in the semifinals we said to each other that we never want to feel like that again, so we came out here and did what we had to do to win,” Johnson said.
Day had 13 points and seven rebounds and Nia Miskel 10 rebounds for Muskegon, which shot 28.3 percent and made just 3-of-20 3-pointers, but shot 46.2 percent (6-of-13) during the fourth quarter when it outscored A&T 19-10.
Worthy finished with eight points and seven rebounds while blocking three shots and altering more.
At Van Noord Arena, Calvin College
Saginaw Heritage 58, Wayne Memorial 55
Southfield A&T 54, Muskegon 50
Final: 12:15 p.m. Saturday
Freeland 71, Hamilton 66
Detroit Edison 70, Haslett 43
Final: 6:15 p.m. Saturday
Flint Hamady 42, Lake City 33
Pewamo-Westphalia 37, Ypsilanti Arbor Prep 33
Final: 4 p.m. Saturday
St. Ignace 48, Kingston 44
Adrian Lenawee Christian 57, Fowler 36
Final: 10 a.m. Saturday