Senior fuels GVSU in upset victory over MTU

GVL / Robert Mathews
Kayla Dawson

GVL / Robert Mathews Kayla Dawson

Pete Barrows

Senior guard Dani Crandall propelled the Grand Valley State University women’s basketball team to a 32-19 halftime lead over Michigan Technological University on Saturday afternoon after scoring the first nine Laker points.

Crandall racked up 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field in the first half but began the second stanza with her first turnover of the game. She changed directions, charged back up the court to make a stand, and challenged an MTU layup at the rim.

It was the sort of play that can change a game, similar to how Tayshaun Prince’s come-from-behind block changed things for Reggie Miller’s Pacers in 2004. In its own way, Crandall’s contesting of the shot did alter the dynamic in what became a 72-62 Laker upset victory.

The Eaton Rapids, Mich., product was whistled for her fourth foul of the game and — as a fleet of baton twirlers followed GVSU feature twirler Moriah Muscaro to the floor to perform — was immediately beckoned to the bench.

“She sat quite a bit, but she stayed engaged in the game,” GVSU coach Janel Burgess said of her team captain, Crandall. “Whenever you have a senior that has to sit as much as she did in a crucial part of the game, knowing that this is a crucial game for us, staying engaged shows great leadership and the players on the court were still able to feed off of what she was giving them from the bench.”

The game went through a metamorphosis in the next 10 minutes of play.

Junior guard Meryl Cripe broke a three-minute scoring drought with a mid-range jumper at the 17:51 mark to extend the Laker lead to 34-19, but the lead slowly began to evaporate.

As Crandall sat, the Huskies applied heat. A free throw here and a converted layup there deteriorated the commanding GVSU advantage, and then a trio of consecutive MTU 3-pointers cut the deficit to a single point.

The Lakers led 46-45 with 8:15 left on the clock.

“I don’t think I’d call that situation nerve-racking,” Burgess said. “When you challenge your young kids, you have to give them a chance to represent for your senior that doesn’t have the opportunity to compete right then until the end, and they did that, doggone it.”

Sophomore guard Bailey Cairnduff made a leaning jumper in the lane off an assist from freshman forward Kayla Dawson — then Crandall reentered the game off a timeout at the 7:51 mark.

After securing a rebound, she found freshman forward Piper Tucker on the bench-side wing.

The crowd and baton twirlers watched with baited breath as the ball traveled toward a wide-open Tucker in that silent moment. The only audible sound was Burgess confidently commanding Tucker to “hit it.”

Tucker obliged and sunk a 3-pointer that barely touched the net on it’s way down.

“When Bailey hits that pull-up J to put the spread up to three,” Burgess said. “When Piper hit that big 3-pointer right after that. Those are two young kids that made big plays and that puts the kind of game that this was and our growth in perspective.”

Crandall then connected on a contested layup to put the Lakers up 53-45 and helped the Lakers close out the game by contributing six points to an 11-2 run over a three-minute span.

The lead would last, and this time, it was the Lakers, not just the game, that would be transformed.

“This was a great team win and I don’t think we’ve played any better together this season,” Crandall said. “Top to bottom, we were focused, ready, the energy we had from the entire team was incredible, and from the bench, it carried onto the court. It was a fun team victory.

“It’s all about the roles that you play in the moment. When I’m on the court, we rely on our bench for energy, so as soon as I get to the bench, it’s now my turn and I have to (be a) cheerleader. I can’t get in a hole, because that can spread throughout the team. Have to keep a positive attitude and when you get in foul trouble like that, for the team to pick it up and ball out, well it’s a good feeling.”

She finished with a career-high 28 points on 10-of-14 shooting from the field despite playing in just 28 minutes and most of the second half with four personal fouls. She also went 7-for-7 from the foul line, grabbed seven rebounds, and tallied two assists while adding a block and a steal.

Dawson finished with 12 points and 12 boards for her second double-double in as many games.

“All of our energy from the bench, from everyone, with Dani leading us, became a tangible element and I could feel it on the court,” she said. “Dani’s rebounding, playing defense and leading us and when she got into foul trouble, we all realized that we needed to step up. We all have to start getting rebounds, we all need to start picking it up on defense, talking, scoring, everything.

“The past three or four games, our energy has been different and that has to carry over into our next game. Being young, consistency is something we’re still working on, but that energy is something that can be sustained.”

As a team, GVSU shot 40.4 percent from the field and went 10-for-29 from 3-point against MTU. On defense, the Lakers held the Huskies to their worst shooting performance — 22-for-71 from the field (31 percent) — of the 2013-2014 season to date and have allowed just 175 points in their last three games — the lowest three-game total of the year.

“We’re playing really good defense and we’re always talking about consistency, on the defensive end especially,” Burgess said. “We did a tremendous job of staying focused on the defensive end and made them have to earn tough shots.”

GVSU (11-10, 9-8 GLIAC) will hit the road for the first time this month on Thursday night for a rematch with Lake Superior State University (5-18, 5-12 GLIAC), a team the Lakers defeated 74-67 at home on Jan. 23.

“We’ll enjoy this win because of how we had to do it,” Burgess said. “After taking two tough losses in three games this week, to be able to be resilient and to stay true to the course, it’s tough. When you’re young, you could easily hang your head, but these girls come every day prepared and kept grinding it out.

“We’re young, but we’re maturing. I’ve challenged them in a variety of ways to mature and they do it, which has been encouraging to see. I’m proud of them.”