By Steve Gunn
ZEELAND – Diynasti Dowell did not lose her confidence when most players would.
Muskegon desperately needed a 3-pointer to tie the game and stay alive. Dowell shot once, missed, then tried again and missed again, leaving the Big Reds with little hope with 15 seconds left.
So what did Big Reds Coach Rodney Walker do? He called time out and designed a play to get the ball to – you guessed it – none other than Dowell.
This time the junior didn’t miss. She calmly nailed a triple with 12 seconds remaining, sending the game into overtime at 41-41.
Then Dowell added five more points in overtime, including two crucial free throws with 19 seconds left, to give Muskegon a thrilling 51-45 victory at Zeeland East High School.
The regional championship is the first in the history of the Muskegon girl’s basketball program. The Big Reds, now 24-2), advance to Wednesday’s state quarterfinal game against undefeated East Lansing at 7 p.m. at DeWitt High School.
“The coaches told me to take my time, stay calm, we still have time,” Dowell said about her big 3-pointer. “I missed the previous two, and I always think the third time is a charm, so I always think I’m going to make it.”
Walker said he never lost confidence in Dowell’s ability to hit the big shot when it mattered the most.
“We told her she had to shoot as soon as she caught it,” the coach said. “I wasn’t afraid because I knew she could knock it down.”
Dowell’s heroics started well before her dramatic performance at the end of the game.
She revived a Muskegon offense that sputtered through the first half and allowed Hudsonville to grab a two-point halftime lead.
Dowell was dominant throughout the second half, scoring 15 points, after going scoreless in the first half. She added five crucial points in overtime to finish with a team-high 20 points.
Walker said Dowell’s calm demeanor in pressure situations is a big plus for his team.
“That’s how she is,” he said. “She’s the same person every day, with the same bubbly attitude and the same spirit. She’s a cool customer and she did a great job tonight.”
The Big Reds relied on their aggressive man-to-man defense to stay in the game in the first half. They had to, because they missed 10 of 11 shots from the floor in the first quarter and had nine turnovers in the first half.
But defensively they were at the top of their game. The Eagles made only 6 of 20 shots in the first half, and clung to a 7-3 lead after one quarter and an 18-16 edge at halftime.
Hudsonville scored the first basket of the third quarter, and Walker called a time out just a minute into the action. Whatever the coach said woke the Big Reds up.
They quickly went on a 11-1 run, sparked by a triple by Dowell, two buckets from Alyza Winston and layups by Deshonna Day and Daz’sha day to take a sudden 27-20 lead.
Muskegon outscored the Eagles 15-6 in the third quarter and led 31-24 at the third buzzer.
But Hudsonville wasn’t done. The Eagles finally figured out the Muskegon defense in the fourth quarter and outscored the Big Reds 17-10. The Hudsonville comeback was sparked by guard Kasey DeSmit, who hit three triples and scored 13 points in the fourth.
Hudsonville very nearly had the game won in regulation. Muskegon led 38-29 with 4:45 left in the fourth quarter, but the Eagles responded with an 12-0 run to take a 41-38 lead with just 52 seconds left.
Dowell missed two 3-point attempts over the next 30 seconds, and the Big Reds called time out. That led to Dowell’s third try, which hit the mark, tied the game at 41-41, and forced overtime.
Dowell led off the extra session with a three-point play – a driving layup followed by a free throw – to put Muskegon up 44-41.
Winston added a layup with 2:55 remaining to extend the lead to five, but Hudsonville answered with a pair of buckets to narrow the score to 46-45.
Daz’sha Day hit a basket for the Big Reds with 1:02 left, extending the lead to three.
But the Big Reds missed the front end of two one-and-one free throw opportunities, leaving Hudsonville within a triple of tying the game again.
Then Dowell calmly sank two free throws with 19 seconds left, and Winston hit one with 1.9 seconds remaining, to ice the win.
“We started turning it over (in the fourth quarter) and they started scoring,” Walker said. “We kind of lost it a little bit. But we regained the tempo in overtime, did a much better job of controlling the ball and not turning it over and taking the shots we wanted.”
The Big Reds and their fans were ecstatic after the game.
“I think we just made history tonight,” Walker said. “I don’t think Muskegon girl’s basketball has ever got past regionals before this, from what I understand.”
Winston finished with 17 points for the Big Reds while Daz’sha Day added 10.
DeSmit finished with a game-high 21 points, including five 3-pointers, for Hudsonville.