Division 1 girls hoops final: Saginaw Heritage uses rare zone to blow past Southfield A&T

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Grand Rapids — Miss Basketball finalist Moira Joiner scored a game-high 17, making four 3-pointers, to help Saginaw Heritage repeat as state champion with a dominating 55-40 victory over Southfield A&T in the Division 1 title game Saturday afternoon at Van Noord Arena.

Southfield A&T's Alexis Johnson shoots a jumper against Saginaw Heritage's Keyonie Champion.

Heritage (25-2), ranked No. 6 in The News Super 20 poll, had defeated No. 2 A&T (24-2) in the first week of the regular season by two points, but it would be in more impressive fashion on the big stage.

Heritage had a great shooting night from the perimeter while A&T had a terrible shooting day aside from senior guard Soleil Barnes (Toledo).

BOX SCORE: Saginaw Heritage 55, Southfield A&T

Heritage made it happen with the use of a zone, using it for a full game for the first time all season.

“We were just walking up (to press conference) and we were just discussing the fact that I don’t think it’s hit us yet, that we’ve just won two in a row so we’re kind of in shock and excited about it,” Heritage coach Vonnie DeLong said. “It’s due in large part to the four years of these three kids (Joiner, 6-foot-1 Shine Strickland-Gills, guard Mallory McCartney), seniors who didn’t want to go out with a loss today and they played like it.

“I don’t think we played a whole game in the zone all year. We played it a couple of times last year and it worked in the final (state title-game win over East Lansing). We just decided yesterday.

"After the game we had yesterday with Wayne, it was so physical and so up and down and so fast paced that we were tired.

“I’m playing six kids so we needed some legs with the one day turnaround, and I felt we couldn’t have Shine in foul trouble like she was yesterday with that team today so we just decided that zone would be our first bet. We needed some legs and I couldn’t have people in foul trouble.”

The zone was obviously the right call by DeLong.

Heritage held a 31-17 lead with 5:40 left in the third when McCartney made a 3-pointer, giving Heritage 7-of-14 shooting from deep range at that point while A&T was just 7-of-26 shooting from the field with Barnes accounting for 4-of-9 (3-of-7 on 3-pointers) with her teammates just 3-of-17.

Joiner, who will play next year at Michigan State, finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and eight assists after getting a triple-double in Friday’s semifinal victory over Wayne Memorial.

Joiner made three 3-pointers in the first half to give Heritage a 25-14 lead, then she connected on her final one to open up a 28-14 advantage a minute into the third quarter.

“I didn’t really surprise myself, but I just knew I had to look for my shot today,” Joiner said. “Last year when we were in the semifinal and final games my shots weren’t falling and yesterday they weren’t really falling either so I was just like, ‘what the heck, it’s my last game ever so it’s going in.’”

Joiner came up with a great pass to Keyonie Champion for a layup and 50-33 lead with 2:20 left and Champion (12 points, 6-of-7 shooting) again scored inside with 2:01 remaining to open up a 50-35 cushion.

Strickland-Gills, who will play next year at Central Michigan, had 16 points, eight rebounds and six assists for Heritage, on 7-of-14 shooting, with McCartney contributing seven points, including two 3's.

Heritage had great ball movement, resulting in 19 assists on 20 baskets.

Barnes scored 14, on 5-of-12 shooting (4-of-10 on 3-pointers) while junior guard Cheyenne McEvans had 13 points, eight coming in the fourth quarter, for A&T which shot 34 percent from the field and was outrebounded by a 36-27 margin.

“It was just a tough game today,” A&T coach Michele Marshall said. “We didn’t shoot well and Heritage played with some poise that we were searching for a little bit. We made runs, but couldn’t make one big enough to cut into the lead, but it doesn’t diminish from the wonderful season that these young ladies had.”

So, what did Heritage do that made A&T struggle?

“They were in a zone and the zone packed in a little bit and we were struggling to find some gaps in order to attack,” Marshall said. “What we do is play inside out and it just appeared those gaps were not there. I think they were, it’s just that we didn’t get off to a great start and then once we did try to attack we were just a little bit hesitant on what we were doing and I think that was the difference.

"We’ve faced zones in our league the entire time, but they (Heritage) really did pack it in on the drive and that made it difficult for shots.”

It didn’t help A&T that 5-10 senior forward Alexis Johnson (Marshall) picked up her second and third fouls in the second quarter and had to sit for six minutes. She was limited to six points and seven rebounds, playing the entire second half, but making just 3 of 13 shots for the game.