Westland John Glenn nearly pushed Grand Haven’s varsity girls basketball team out of the state tournament, but when push came to shove, it was the Buccaneers who did the shoving.
Grand Haven outscored John Glenn 21-10 in the fourth quarter to pull out a 55-46 victory in Friday’s Class A state semifinals at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.
With the win, the Bucs will play for their second consecutive state title today against a familiar foe — Grosse Pointe South, which pounded Dexter in Friday’s other semifinal, 48-29. Today’s opening tip is set for noon.
The Bucs edged South in last year’s championship game, 54-53.
On Friday, the Bucs were in complete disarray at times against John Glenn’s devastating pressure defense.
“We finally got our composure in the second half,” said Bucs’ coach Katie Kowalczyk-Fulmer, whose team is now 27-0 on the year and has won 50 straight games overall. “We started taking care of the ball a little better, and we were able to go over the top against their press to get some easy buckets.
“It was important we kept attacking.”
The biggest player on the court once again made the biggest impact. Senior center Abby Cole, who was named the Class A Player of the Year earlier in the day, had perhaps her most impressive stat line of her amazing prep career. Cole dominated in the paint, scoring 23 points, ripping down 19 rebounds and swatting away 12 shots.
“She’s just a game-changer,” Kowalczyk-Fulmer said. “If you haven’t seen her play, she’s just tough to get shots off against in the paint. And that’s against a pretty talented team with three very good guards.”
Those three guards — twins Raven and Raine Bankston and Sha’Keyva Graves — made life miserable for the Bucs’ ball handlers all day. Grand Haven had 10 turnovers in the first quarter alone, leading to 12 of John Glenn’s first 14 points.
The lightening-quick Raven Bankston finished with 11 steals, which allowed her to go the other way for several easy buckets, resulting in 23 points.
As a team, John Glenn had 20 steals.
“They were tough,” Kowalczyk-Fulmer said. “We watched them on tape against Detroit King, and you just can’t re-create that quickness in practice. We tried. A big concern was handling their pressure. They have quick hands, and they anticipate so well. We struggled with that big-time in the first half.
“At halftime, we talked about how we have to be strong with every ball, run through every pass, catch and face, and we did a better job in the second half.”
The Bucs trailed at the half for the first time this postseason, 23-19, but quickly battled back in the third quarter. First, they beat the pressure and got the ball ahead to Taylor Craymer for a layup. Another block by Cole put the Bucs back on offense, and Cole’s offensive rebound bucket gave Grand Haven a 27-26 lead. Moments later, Hannah Wilkerson’s driving layup made it 29-26 Bucs.
Grand Haven led 32-28 on another bucket by Cole, but John Glenn’s defense led to a quick 6-0 run, giving the Rockets a 34-32 lead.
John Glenn was on top 36-34 at the end of the third, but in the fourth, Grand Haven’s wealth of big-game experience came through.
Craymer’s two free throws tied the game at 36-all, then the 6-1 junior scored again following an offensive rebound for a 38-37 Bucs’ lead.
Cole picked up her third and fourth fouls in the fourth quarter, but it didn’t change the way she played. She continued to go after every shot within reach, and continued to go strong to the basket on the offensive end.
That led to numerous trips to the free throw line, where she finished 10-of-11, including a 6-of-7 showing from the foul line in the fourth.
As a team, the Bucs were 20-of-28 from the line, including 13-of-19 in the fourth quarter alone.
That proficiency on the line, along with an inspired defensive showing, helped the Bucs pull away over the final few minutes for the nine-point win.
Grand Haven’s outstanding defense shackled John Glenn’s high-scoring offense as the Rockets struggled woefully from the field, shooting just 17-of-71 overall (24 percent) and 3-of-22 (14 percent) from 3-point range. A majority of those 17 makes were layups following steals.
The Bucs were 16-of-34 for the game (47 percent), including 3-of-7 from 3-point range.
John Glenn’s Big 3 combined to score 38 of its 46 points. Raven Bankston made 9-of-24 shots, while Sha’Keya Graves, the team’s leading scorer on the year, was 5-of-19, including 2-of-12 from 3-point range. Raine Bankston, who jammed her hand early in the game, was a miserable 1-of-16 from the floor.
“We put our heads down too early,” Raine Bankston said. “Our shots weren’t falling that usually do.”
“We got a lot of shots. We just weren’t making them as many as we usually do,” echoed John Glenn coach Eric Kovatch. “That’s a tribute to Grand Haven.”
The Bucs’ Hannah Wilkerson kept Graves under wraps, holding the Rockets’ dynamic scorer well below her season average.
“She’s just really talented,” said Wilkerson, who scored nine points of her own for the Bucs. “I just tried my best. I like guarding other teams’ best players. I think I help my team that way.
“This was the biggest game we’ve had all year. No one wanted our season to be over yet. We were just talking, everyone wants to practice one more time tomorrow.”
Bucs’ sophomore guard Amanda Merz dished out seven assists. She played much better after halftime, when the Bucs were able to break the press.