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D1 SEMIS: Kailee Davis puts on Miss Basketball-worthy performance, leading Renaissance to come-from-behind win vs. Wayne

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, April 8, 2021, 12:51 am

EAST LANSING — At this point, there’s no changing the Miss Basketball finalists to add a name.

But for 30 minutes on Wednesday — and specifically a 21-second stretch in the fourth quarter of the Division 1 semifinal against Wayne Memorial — Detroit Renaissance’s Kailee Davis showed why it might’ve been a mistake to leave her off that list.

Davis went for 33 points in the game, including seven straight in that stretch to take the Phoenix from down five to up two with less than two minutes remaining, helping pull off a come-from-behind win to send Renaissance back to the title game for the first time since 2011.

“It was just about not giving up. I have a belief in my teammates, and they believe in me,” Davis said. “I’m at a loss for words, because I’m excited.”

Her coach, Shane Lawal, was not.

“As long as you’ve got Kailee Davis, you’re never worried. When this is who you get to coach, you’re never worried about a game. That’s one of the good things about the style we play is that you always have a chance to win a game, even against a great team,” Lawal said, lauding praise on Wayne’s star and Miss Basketball finalist, who finished with 29 points and 17 rebounds. “Alanna Micheaux, I’m a huge fan of hers. Her ceiling is only up. I wish her the best of luck. … I’m always going to go to battle with my kids, and as long as you have Kailee Davis, you can always win the game. As long as you’ve got Mikyah Finley, Nika Dorsey, Shannon Wheeler, you can always win a game. I mean that from the bottom of my heart. 

“Sometimes, you’ve got to manage a game, and certain times, you’ve gotta let killers be killers, and they’re killers. You’ll get to a certain situation, and you’ll be like, ‘Look, attack downhill, come off the screen and see what happens from there.’ But after that, you just get out of their way, and let them play. 

“I wish we would’ve made more free throws. But outside of that, I’m proud of them. You’re not going to win a championship easy. It’s not going to happen.”

The Phoenix (13-4) have one more game before they can hoist a trophy, facing Hudsonville (22-1). The Eagles beat Midland Dow, 49-37, in the other Division 1 semifinal Wednesday night to get to the title game for the first time. 

“We’ve been together for four years. We’ve been through thick and thin, losing, winning, everything. Last season, we had a great season,” Dorsey said. “This season started off rocky, and then COVID — it was hard for us. But we pulled through today. We showed that we’re supposed to be out there.”

For Wayne Memorial (17-3), it was third semifinal loss in four seasons, all of them close. The Zebras lost to East Lansing, 60-52, in 2017-18, and 58-55 to Saginaw Heritage in 2018-19. 

“Like I told the kids, we weren’t even supposed to be here this year. What were we ranked in the preseason, like 12th? We’ll be back next year. I return three starters, and we’ll keep plugging away at this thing until we finally get a chance to finally hoist a trophy,” Wayne coach Jarvis Mitchell said, lauding the Renaissance kids as much as Lawal was lauding his. 

“Tough kids. Absolutely tough kids. They absolutely deserved to win. … The saying is, it’s hard to stop a team that’s resilient. Renaissance, they never gave in to emotion. They just continued to go fight. And when we thought we had them, they just kept plugging and kept plugging. 

You have kids that are tough-minded, mentally strong, and they won’t take no for an answer, that’s the results you get.”

Renaissance dominated the opening quarter, leading 21-8, but Wayne came back to outscore the Phoenix by 12 in the second and 10 in the third, leading 53-44 going into the fourth, and pushed the lead as high as 11 twice before Renaissance began its comeback. 

The lead was still at seven points when LaChelle Austin hit a pair of free throws with 2:39 left, but Renaissance would score the next 11 points. 

Wheeler — who’d been in foul trouble trying to guard Micheaux — hit two free throws to cut it to five, 69-64, with 2:28 left, then 21 seconds later, Davis nailed a 3-pointer to make it a one-possession game. 

“An amazing player. Absolutely amazing player. Top to bottom. She absolutely willed them to win. Phenomenal. She made some tough shots. We tried to make her work as much as possible,” Mitchell said. “But at the end of the day, like I said, when a kid is resilient, and they want to win — and I don’t think it was that my kids didn’t want to win; she just wanted to win a little bit more. That’s just the bottom line to it.”

She wasn’t done there. She grabbed a steal on the inbounds pass and laid it in to tie thee game at 69-69 with 1:55 left, then got another steal, drawing a foul to send her to the free-throw line, where she hit both to give the Phoenix a two-point lead they’d never relinquish. 

“That’s why I love my (players). At any time, we can always have an argument or a discussion or disagreement, but we always figure it out, because there’s love. She challenged me on something that I said, when I said ‘She hasn’t been getting to that steal like she did last year.’ I feel like she stepped up today, and told me to ‘Shut the (heck) up.’ She went and she got two or three of those in the game. That’s all I want to do is to challenge my kids to be the best that she can be,” Lawal said.

“While we’re here, I’m really upset that you guys can watch her play and she’s not a Miss Basketball finalists. That really tears me apart that we’ve seen what we’ve seen from Kailee for the last couple of years, and now we’re watching her on the biggest stage, and there’s no Miss Basketball finalists left in the state tournament. Kailee Davis will be the only one still left. 

“I think she’s shown today why she’s a Miss Basketball finalist.”

While the Phoenix did struggle from the line — going 8-for-19 from the stripe in the third, and 24-for-46 overall — they hit them when it counted. 

Finley would hit two free throws with 28 seconds left to pump the lead up to four, 73-69, but Austin hit a 3 six seconds later to make it a one-point game again. Davis hit two free throws with 18 seconds left to make it a three-point game again, then got a steal with seven seconds remaining to seal it. 

In all, the Zebras had 36 turnovers in the game. 

“The turnovers hurt us. Of course the turnovers hurt us. Some decision-making that we made, late game, early game, middle game, those things come back to haunt you, especially when you lose on a one-possession game,” Mitchell said. 

“You take three of those away, I might be having a different conversation with you. But it’s tough to beat a team with multiple Division I prospects, with 36 turnovers. That’s something a coach can’t control. I thought in the beginning, we handled their pressure very well, but at the end, we started to get tired, and we started to get sloppy.

“I believe at the end we crumbled a little bit. I might have used too many timeouts at the beginning. I tried to keep them to the end, but I used all of them to try to stop their momentum. There was only so much I could do.”

The turnovers were what the Phoenix do — make you make mistakes.

“That’s literally us. It’s organized chaos. I think people watch and they think, ‘Man, that’s kinda sloppy.’ Yeah, that’s cool. But we believe that we can play at that speed better than you can play at that speed. And if we play at that speed long enough, and you play at that speed long enough, eventually, you’re going to break before us. Even if we let some up, we want you to take quick, contested twos, and we want you to turn the ball over. … Eventually a pattern starts to form on how you’re going to break the press, and we figure it out — hopefully we figure it out — we’re always going to have a chance to get back in the game,” Lawal said. 

“They’re going to figure us out. They’re a great team, right? They’re a great team, and they’re physical. Just like what I said about the pattern, as a player and a coach, you figure out the pattern of the other team. We didn’t even watch them on film this time, because we’ve played them four times in the last two years. Eventually he (Mitchell) figured out, ‘OK, if we get it up the sideline, and get it to big ‘ol Rose (Micheaux), she’s going to dominate anybody we have down there.’ Then for us, Shannon got in foul trouble, now we’re screwed. 

Shannon got in foul trouble and Mikyah got in foul trouble, and now we’re not as good defensively, we’re not as good offensively. And he attacked that, as he should. He attacked that, and that got them back in the game in the second quarter, and they took over in the third quarter.”