GVSU beats Drury in Sweet 16 matchup

GVL / Kevin Sielaff - Head coach Mike Williams exits the the court with his team.  The Lakers defeat the Chargers of Hillsdale College Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016 in Allendale.

Kevin Sielaff

GVL / Kevin Sielaff – Head coach Mike Williams exits the the court with his team. The Lakers defeat the Chargers of Hillsdale College Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016 in Allendale.

Beau Troutman

Grand Valley State point guard Janae Langs had been in this situation before.

The Sweet 16 game against No. 14 Drury (26-9) on March 14 at Ashland University was knotted at 60-60 with just four seconds left on the clock. Langs, who has come of age this postseason, stood at the free throw line prepared to shoot two attempts after a Drury blocking foul, and had yet another late-game opportunity to give her team the edge.

The first one snapped the bottom of the net, and the second followed suit to give the Lakers the 62-60 lead. The Panthers had four seconds to do something, but forward Addy Roller was only able to muster up an awkward jump shot that barely grazed the rim.

The buzzer sounded and it was official: the Lakers (25-9) were headed to the Elite Eight. Unranked GVSU will face No. 18 Pittsburg State (29-5), a No. 2 seed, on March 22 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

“There’s something to be said about two-sport athletes,” said GVSU head coach Mike Williams. “They anticipate situations, they’re gamers, that’s what she is. Some people have one game-winning shot in their careers, she’s had three in three weeks. It’s crazy.”

The 5-foot-4-inch Langs, who also plays softball, led the way with 20 points, nine rebounds, four steals and was named the Midwest Region Tournament’s most outstanding player. Langs and center Piper Tucker were both named to the Midwest Region All-Tournament team as well.

“We’re pretty excited,” Langs said. “It’s an awesome chance to say you’re one of the eight teams still remaining, so we’re going to enjoy this victory for a little while.”

It is the third time this postseason that Langs’ late-game heroics have given the Lakers a win. She hit a game-winning 3-pointer in the first round of the GLIAC Tournament against Michigan Tech, and a double-clutch layup in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to sink Lewis University, the No. 6-ranked team in Division II.

Since senior shooting guard Brionna Barnett went out for the season in a Jan. 28 game against Saginaw Valley State, Langs has gone from a role player to starting-caliber guard who the Lakers can rely on for consistent scoring.

“That’s why you coach,” said GVSU associate head coach Phil Sayers. “To see them develop, and then look at challenges and enjoy them. I gave her a hug after the game and I reminded her, fourth game of the year, I think she played four minutes against Lewis. Fast forward four months later, and she’s the MVP of the regional tournament. That’s why you coach.”

The game was back-and-forth all night. The Panthers started the first quarter on a 10-0 run, but the Lakers ended the quarter on a 13-0 run.

In the second quarter, the Lakers outscored the Panthers 18-9 to give GVSU a 31-19 advantage at the half, but Drury came back with an 18-6 advantage in the third quarter that tied the game at 37-37 heading into the final period.

The Lakers had an opportunity to win the game in regulation, but an errant 3-pointer from Taylor Lutz fell short of the basket.

The teams were virtually even in every category. The Lakers shot 36.1 percent as team, compared to the Panthers’ 34.8 percent. The Lakers were only +2 in rebounding, and just -3 in turnovers. The two teams had an identical 28 points in the paint.

Piper Tucker had 10 points and 11 boards for the Lakers, and Taylor Parmley added 14 points, 11 of which were in the second half. Starters Bailey Cairnduff and Lutz combined for just eight points on 2-of-17 shooting (2-of-12 from beyond the arc). The Panthers’ Annie Armstrong had 25 points to lead all scorers.

The Lakers were again mostly without leading scorer Kayla Dawson, who is coming back from an ankle injury. She played only 10 minutes and scored two points.

Pittsburg State, like GVSU, lost its conference tournament championship game (an 80-66 loss to Emporia State on March 6). In its Sweet Sixteen matchup, Pittsburg State got revenge on Emporia State with a 78-74 win. In its five losses on the year, Pittsburg State has lost by margins of eight, 14, 18, 20 and 21, and are led by Mikaela Burgess, who averages 18 points per game.

Langs said at this point, the injury-ridden Lakers have proven themselves, and they’re going to take the same approach to the Elite Eight as they have the entire postseason.

“It’s been unbelievable, especially with all the adversity we’ve faced throughout the season,” Langs said. “It’s just been a joy to be with these ladies and the coaching staff who take one game at a time, and just enjoy the moment. The coaches always say to us, ‘This team will never be the same again, so enjoy the time you have with your teammates, and just run with it.’”