By Jason Goorman
Local Sports Journal
The Muskegon Big Red girls basketball team didn’t let adversity hold them down Tuesday in their 65-60 victory over Greenville (20-3) in the Class A regional semifinals at Grand Haven.
And they didn’t let a hard-earned lead go to their heads down the stretch.
After falling behind 28-16 with just under three minutes left in the first half, the Big Reds (17-6) went to work.
Sophomore Mardreika Cook was the spark Muskegon needed. The 6-1 forward, in her second huge effort in a row, scored seven straight points to cut the Big Reds’ deficit to 28-23 by halftime.
Her final two before the break came off a steal and break away.
The second half was more Cook as she opened up the third quarter with a two-point bucket near the basket. Keiarra Guy followed up with a steal and a break away layup to bring Muskegon to within a point, 28-27.
“It dawned on me that this would be my team’s last game,” said Cook about her late half performance. “And it dawned on them (Muskegon) and they picked it up. We came out with a lot of intensity, hoping and praying that this would not be our last game.”
The Big Reds defense came alive cutting off passing lanes and getting key steals from Janiece Levelston. Finally with 5:01 left in the third quarter, they tied the score on a Jade Page free throw.
After trading baskets back and fourth, Cook came through again, this time with a big offensive rebound and put back to tie the score at 35.
Muskegon took its first lead with 3:50 left in the third quarter on a Guy free throw.
In all, the Big Reds went on a 20-7 run in just seven minutes of action.
Contributing to that spurt was a complete change of pace for the Big Reds on both sides of the ball.
“My thought was if we can just make it through the half without me burning all my timeouts, then we can get together in the locker room and come back and play the kind of ball I know we are capable of,” said Muskegon head coach Taushauna Burrell.
Muskegon attacked the basket and went for key rebounds on offense and came up with big points in the paint. On defense, the Big Reds played a matchup zone that cut off passing lanes for Greenville and led to steals and transition points.
Coach Burrell did take risks, but they paid off.
The gutsiest call was to keep Cook on the floor in the second quarter after she received her third foul.
“Sometimes you really have to trust your players and it’s important for them to know you trust them and believe in them,” said Burrell. “Especially in games like this. You gotta go with what is rolling.”
The key decision by coach Burrell was down the stretch when the Big Reds took a 50-47 lead off a Page put back.
Muskegon went to a patient offense with six minutes left in the game and forced Greenville out to the perimeter. That game plan spread the floor out and the Big Reds used their quickness and good decisions to build a 59-51 lead with two minutes left to play.
“I had to call a time out and say ‘Hey, we’re doing something a little different,’” said Burrell about her team’s change of pace. “We really wanted to spread the floor and get them out of that zone.”
Guy helped seal the win for Muskegon in the fourth. She kept the offense active on the outside and found lanes at the right times to go to the basket. The senior guard put in 10 points in the quarter and finished with 17 points.
Cook would also finish with 17 points and pull down 14 rebounds while Page had 17 points and 11 rebounds.
Also putting in key possessions was senior guard Levelston. She scored 11 points and had five steals on the night.
Greenville was led by a pair of freshman as Paige Hallock put up a game-high 22 points. Landon Kemp paced the Yellow Jackets on the outside with 13 points, including three 3-pointers. Kortney Deurloo chipped in 10 points.
At Thursday’s regional final, Muskegon will face Grand Rapids Christian (19-5), who downed Wyoming 57-48. Tip off is set for 7 p.m. at Grand Haven High School.