Inspiring senior thrills Fieldhouse in OT win
GVSU junior Kat LaPrairie
Senior guard Dani Crandall stole the show as the Grand Valley State University women’s basketball team defeated Northwood University 76-67 in an overtime thriller performed Saturday evening on the Fieldhouse floor; she scored the first and last points of the game and played in 43 minutes of the 45-minute affair.
Enthralling as the game was, the curtain-to-call performance wasn’t just for effect — every minute and every act mattered. Although, not every act was conscious and none of the performance was forced.
“I honestly never know how much I score until the next day,” she said. “I knew the game was close, but I didn’t realize it was as close as it was the entire time. I thought we were up six or seven points for the majority of the game because we were clicking so well.
“I just played. We were just playing. We let the game come to us, I let the game come to me and in the last few minutes and overtime — I don’t know, I just played and it worked.”
Crandall has exceeded 20 points five times now this season and has recorded three double-doubles, but when she compiled a career-high 36 points on 11-of-19 shooting from the field and 13-of-16 shooting from the free-throw line to post the highest Laker point total since Feb. 2005, every point and every one of her 10 rebounds meant something.
Her electric output encapsulated a victory that was not only efficient, but also economic. No frivolous free throws. No directionless drives to the lane. A display that was both direct in execution and enigmatic in effect.
“Dani is playing tremendously consistent, the team’s playing consistent, we’re getting the ball to the right people at the right times and executing down the stretch,” head coach Janel Burgess said. “We knew what was riding on this game and we have a young group of competitors that understood it — they weren’t pressured or pressing to do anything special — they just knew we had to be consistent with what we’ve been doing, which is play good defense and fight through challenges as they present themselves.
“With 10 minutes to go, I told myself as I was pacing the sidelines that this game was going to come down to which team can execute down the stretch — and we executed well on both ends.”
GVSU (13-10, 11-8) broke a three-way tie for seventh place with Northwood and Hillsdale College to move into sole possession of sixth place in the GLIAC standings with one last home game yet to be played this season — a 6 p.m. matchup on Thursday against Saginaw Valley State University.
The Lakers have just three regular season games left on the schedule. Playoff implications will be on the line, and every win gleaned from here to the GLIAC Tournament will hold significance.
“We needed this win, and we wanted this win more than any other win this season,” Crandall said. “I know I had however many points, but we played like a team the entire time; you could tell how much we wanted it, and that’s really what got us that victory.”
It took an ensemble, not just Crandall in the lead, to get the job done. All the parts came together at the right time and the final result was no act.
Freshman forward Piper Tucker — who played the role of an efficacious scorer with 18 points in a come-from-behind 72-63 victory at home against Lake Superior State University on Thursday — returned Saturday to stifle an 8-0 Northwood run in the first half with back-to-back triples.
“It never happened to me before where I shot like I did Thursday and helped to bring my team back — it was a little shocking, honestly — but it was an amazing feeling to get the last two wins the way we did,” Tucker said. “Dani had amazing games, our team is so together and knowing that she’s the leader and we’re behind her every step of the way makes it mean more.”
Crandall matched Tucker against LSSU on Thursday with 18 points and five rebounds of her own, although junior forward Kat LaPrairie, who added 13 points in just 18 minutes and sophomore center Jill Steinmetz, who recorded 10 rebounds to go along with nine points, played equally essential supporting roles.
Freshman guard Taylor Lutz handed out a game-high five assists in the victory and dished out a game-high six assists in 39 minutes of action on Saturday, while fellow freshman forward Kayla Dawson earned her fourth double-double of the season against the Timberwolves with 13 points and 11 boards after a quiet game against LSSU.
“It was a team win from top-to-bottom,” Crandall said of the Northwood game. “We were finding the people that we needed to find in the moment, playing smart basketball and although a lot of people contributed in ways that aren’t going to show up in the stat sheet or newspaper, we know how important every single person was to that win — from the coaches to the end of the bench, everyone played a role.”
Following Tucker’s accentuation from downtown, the lead would change hands four more times before the first half closed with the Lakers up 27-25, a lead GVSU managed to maintain until a Northwood layup knotted the score at 31-31 with 15:03 left in the second stanza.
The Lakers countered with three consecutive layups from Crandall, Dawson and junior guard Meryl Cripe, and led 54-50 with 2:44 remaining in regulation before Northwood scored the game’s next five points to go ahead one minute and 20 seconds later.
Crandall turned in a timely layup with 12 seconds remaining in regulation to cut a three-point deficit to one, but a Northwood free throw one second later made it a 60-58 game. GVSU called a timeout as the spotlight was once aimed in the direction of its senior leader.
Crandall drove to the rim, drew a foul and sunk a pair of free throws to tie the game at 60 apiece with two seconds to go. The crowd erupted, but it wasn’t quite time to take a bow.
She capped the night by scoring eight of GVSU’s 10 points in overtime, including two final free throws to put the win on ice. The Lakers never trailed in the five-minute stanza and held Northwood to 1-of-11 shooting in extra time, to 20-of-69 in the game.
“Dani did a great job of composing herself — there’s a lot of pressure in those last few seconds — but everyone rose to the occasion,” Burgess said. “We executed well, got ourselves an opportunity to play into overtime and really took control once we were there.”
The Lakers celebrated briefly with the band as they ran off the court to cheers. It was a bow-worthy moment and a bow-worthy performance, although the Lakers and Crandall declined to take it. Not yet.
GVSU will return to the Fieldhouse Arena for an encore Thursday. It will be Crandall’s senior day, her last game at home as a Laker, and she’ll be recognized at halftime of the men’s game against SVSU, along with fellow seniors Rob Woodson and Joe Gurzick.
“I would hope that we can continue to play,” Crandall said. “That we can get what will be my last win on our home court. That we can keep the ball rolling as a team, get into the tournament and go from there.”