GVSU’s historic season comes to a halt in Final Four

GVL / Kevin Sielaff - Bailey Cairnduff (34) looks to pass the ball around the arch.  The Lakers defeat the Chargers of Hillsdale College Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016 in Allendale.

Kevin Sielaff

GVL / Kevin Sielaff – Bailey Cairnduff (34) looks to pass the ball around the arch. The Lakers defeat the Chargers of Hillsdale College Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016 in Allendale.

Beau Troutman

Every good story comes to an end. Throughout history, people have rallied around the underdog; it’s how stories like David versus Goliath, Cinderella and Rocky Balboa came to be.

But every good story comes to an end.

Grand Valley State’s women’s basketball (26-10) team, a No. 7 seed, saw its underdog story slam shut in the NCAA Division II Final Four, with a 67-47 loss to No. 2 seed University of Alaska-Anchorage (38-2) in Sioux Falls, South Dakota on March 23.

The loss ends a Laker postseason that included GLIAC Tournament runner-up honors, a Midwest Region crown and the second Final Four appearance in program history.

“We had a tough second quarter,” said GVSU head coach Mike Williams. “They’re a good team. They were able to keep at us on the defensive end in the full-court and half-court, very aggressive, in-your-face pressure and we didn’t handle it very well.”

The Seawolves’ athletic advantage was noticeable from the start. The Lakers’ Taylor Parmley got a three-point play a little over three minutes into the game to give the Lakers an early 6-5 lead.

The Lakers, however, struggled to find open looks against the rangy and frenetic defense of the Seawolves. The Lakers wouldn’t score again until just over two minutes left in the quarter. The Seawolves built a 19-12 lead by the end of the first quarter, and forced nine turnovers.

The Seawolves have 11 players that average 10-plus minutes-per-game, and the depth and consistent energy they brought wore the Lakers down as the game progressed.

“It was very tough,” said guard Janae Langs. “It was a team we hadn’t quite seen before, they were very lengthy and athletic. You got to give a lot of credit to them for the program that they’ve developed and the players that they have. I think it’s a great learning experience for us.”

The Lakers pulled the deficit to five points early in the second quarter, but another scoring drought allowed the Seawolves to pull away. A jump shot from Lakers’ center Piper Tucker two minutes into the second quarter made it 22-17 in favor of the Seawolves, but it took the Lakers five minutes to get another bucket. By then, it was a 29-19 deficit.

By halftime, the Lakers trailed 37-21. In the third, the Seawolves came out with the same energy, and started the quarter on a 10-2 run.

From there, it was clear the Lakers’ season had just over a quarter of basketball left before it was over.

The Lakers only shot 31.9 percent from the field as a team (15-of-47), including 24 percent from behind the arc (6-of-25). Parmley was the only Laker to score in double figures with 13.

The Seawolves had four players in double figures and shot 54.5 percent as a team (24-of-44), as the Lakers had a hard time containing UAA’s balanced offensive attack.

“It just felt like every time we had a surge of energy, they had even more of a surge,” Parmley said. “It was definitely tough, but we’re better for it and we’ll practice for that next year.”

The Lakers return almost all of their major contributors next year, with exception of senior guard Brionna Barnett. Barnett, who suffered a season-ending back injury in a Jan. 28 game against Saginaw Valley State, watched from the bench as Langs filled in and became a top contributor for the Lakers.

Langs had three game-winning buckets in the Lakers’ postseason run in games against Michigan Tech (March 1), Lewis (March 11) and Drury (March 14). Langs was quick to credit Barnett with her post season success.

“It’s very tough to see an unbelievable player and just a great person to be around (finish her career),” Langs said. “I learned a lot watching her, she’s a very talented basketball player, and it helped me develop my game in ways that I didn’t have that she did.

“So I mean it sucks to see her go down because you don’t want anyone to go out like that, but she provided things in other ways that helped us push on to where we ended today.”

Williams’ first season as the Lakers’ head coach is officially in the books, and he says this team exceeded all of his expectations. The team’s 26 wins were third-most in program history, and with so many returning players, the expectations will be high for the Lakers in 2017. The underdog narrative has come to an end, but the alpha dog narrative has yet to begin.

“It was really good,” Williams said. “Like I said, I have people to thank, coach (Janel) Burgess and the former coaches who kind of set the table for this year, and then obviously the players that were very receptive to having a new coach. They could’ve easily put their guard up and they didn’t. So for that I’m thankful, and we got to Final Four.

“We had a pretty good year.”