No. 3 DeWitt snaps No. 2 East Lansing’s regular-season win streak at 43, in the process erasing its own hex against the Trojans
DEWITT — There had to be years of pent-up frustration on the parts of the DeWitt Panthers, who were getting ready to celebrate a win over their recent nemesis, East Lansing, Monday night.
Still, coach Bill McCullen went around to every player on the DeWitt bench and made sure that they understood: Nobody was charging the floor. There wasn’t going to be some sort of ostentatious celebration.
Sort of the Barry Sanders approach to touchdown celebrations.
Flip the ball the ref, and act like you’ve been there before.
“We expect to win on our home court. We’re going to play again — I hope sometime in the tournament; if not, for years to come — and we’re not about showing anybody up,” McCullen said after his No. 3-ranked Panthers pulled away to beat the No. 2 Trojans, 58-46, tying up the Capital Area Activities Association Blue Division race. “We know we still have one more game to finish the job, but the seniors — they want it. They want it bad.”
For certain, the Panthers (16-1, 10-1 CAAC Blue) are no strangers to winning, having gone 52-4 over their last 56 games.
But this one? This was special. This was against the team that had handed them all four of those losses in that span, two by one point and one by four, ending DeWitt’s season in the district finals each of the last two seasons.
“It was super exciting. Like I was just telling the girls in the gym, that was one of the best wins I’ve ever had in my life. It felt great,” said senior Annie McIntosh. “It meant a lot. We went out there and just gave it our best. I can’t be more proud of my teammates right now.”
It also put an end to the 43-game regular-season win streak for the Trojans (17-1, 10-1), who hadn’t lost a regular-season game since a 74-47 home loss to Williamston on Jan. 31, 2017. They’d won the final six games in the 2016-17 regular season, then all 20 last year, and their first 17, including a four-point win over DeWitt back on Dec. 14.
“I don’t know the last league game they lost. It’s a crazy streak,” McCullen said. “Anytime you’re able to beat them, it’s a heck of a victory. Our kids have a lot of pride, and we felt like we had opportunities the first time, and we let it slip away. And our senior class is motivated to finish this season strong.”
They’d like to finish the season like they finished Monday’s game.
The Panthers started the fourth quarter on a 6-0 run that eliminated East Lansing’s slim three-point lead, and stretched it out to a 14-2 streak, building a nine-point lead. Then they went 15-for-18 from the free-throw line in the final frame to close out the win, outscoring East Lansing 23-10 in the fourth quarter.
It wasn’t without a hiccup or two, though.
The team’s emotional — and scoring — leader, McIntosh picked up her third and fourth fouls less than a minute apart with nearly five minutes to go in the game, getting called for a pair of charges. It could have been a huge momentum pivot — if the Panthers had let it.
“That was a key moment, because you could feel the momentum shifting a little bit. … All of a sudden, we had a one-point lead back, and we were able to put Annie back on the floor,” McCullen said. “I’m really proud of her. As a sophomore, she was just so emotional, she was a roller coaster — in scoring, too; she’d have a big game, and then a rough night. Last year, I thought she improved a lot, and it was consistent double figures, and this year, you look at the book, and she’s got 15-17 points, every time. It really doesn’t matter what kind of game it is, she just kind of does her thing.”
McIntosh finished with a team-high 16 points, while fellow seniors Sydney Mills and Maddie Petersen had 15 and 11, respectively. It wasn’t just the senior class making plays, though. Sophomore Hannah Kurncz curled to the basket for a couple of layups in the early streak as DeWitt built its fourth-quarter lead, while sophomore point guard Isabelle Gilmore was 6 of 6 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter.
Aaliyah Nye had 23 points for East Lansing, including six in a five-second span with less than two minutes to go, nailing a 3-pointer, then getting fouled in the act of shooting a 3 after a steal, and nailing all three free throws. It would cut DeWitt’s lead to 51-46 with 1:50 to go, but the Trojans wouldn’t score again.
The Panthers did a good job at the unenviable task of trying to shut down East Lansing’s multifaceted offense. Outside of Nye, nobody else had more than the seven points recorded by Soraya Timms.
“If you’re watching film of them — we watched their film from last week, and after a quarter, there were seven different girls that had made a 3, and two of them had made multiple 3s,” McCullen said. “So we just talked about that we can’t give up drives to the basket, obviously, but you better make sure that you have a high hand up on those shooters, because they’ve all got the green light, and they’re all capable. I thought our kids closed out well on shooters. They hit some tough ones, with hands in the face.”
If the two teams do meet again this year, it would be in the Division 1 regional finals at Caledonia. They were split up for districts, with the Panthers going to St. Johns, and the Trojans hosting their own.
Regardless, the Panthers would like to get past their early exits of the last few seasons, and make a legitimate postseason run. It would fill in what McCullen called a hole in the resume of his seniors.
“Well, yeah. They went 21-2 as sophomores and they went 21-2 as juniors, but we lost in the district championship to these guys, both times. We want to make a run. Everybody wants to win your league, that’s obviously your No. 1 goal, but we also have kind of a 1-B goal of wanting to do something at tournament time. Every school wants to do that, and we feel like we have the capabilities, if we can put it together, and continue to play the way we’re playing especially defensively,” McCullen said. “I think our senior kids, there’s a drive there — I hope — that they’re not going to be satisfied with anything but a league, and some type of tournament run. So we’re going to keep working hard in practice, and we’ve gotta go back and play St. Johns (Tuesday.)”