Tucker’s late free throws lead Marshall into first Class B final since 1981
East Lansing – Like anyone would be in her position, Nicole Tucker was nervous with 1.4 seconds remaining and her team trailed Bay City John Glenn 42-41 in the Class B semifinals.
Tucker had just been fouled, and was stepping to the free throw line with Marshall’s season on the line.
After a John Glenn timeout, both free throws Tucker took looked almost identical as she made both to give Marshall a thrilling 43-42 win, sending the Redhawks to the Class B state championship game for the first time since 1981.
Tucker said that after being fouled, she was obviously nervous, but was confident taking those free throws after talking with her teammates and coach during the timeout.
“I was a little bit nervous at first when I realized she had fouled me and I was going to the line,” she said. “When they called timeout and my teammates talked to me and my coach talked to me, I realized that I could do it. Jill (Konkle) told me ‘Nikki, you do this every day in practice’, and I said ‘Yeah, I do’. I knew that there would be no doubts and we were going to win, because that’s what I needed to do to win.”
For Marshall (25-1) coach Sal Konkle, there was no one she’d rather have take those free throws for her team in that position.
“I told the girls that after Nikki makes these, don’t foul, plain and simple,” she said. “I was confident she was going to make them and honestly, if we wanted anybody at the line, it’s Nikki.”
Marshall, which led by as many as six early in the third quarter, watched its lead turn into a four point deficit midway through the fourth quarter after two straight baskets from senior center Cassidy Boensch, to give John Glenn a 40-36 lead.
Boensch, who was in foul trouble early in the game, finished with 14 points and 16 rebounds to lead John Glenn (25-2).
John Glenn coach Cory Snider said that Boensch’s aggressiveness and rebounding was a key factor in John Glenn being able to stay in the lead for much of the fourth quarter. Boensch had six points and six rebounds in the final stanza.
“She was huge,” he said. “Her rebounding total was 16 and I don’t know how many were in the fourth quarter, but quite a few. I thought she had to play with a little bit of a different attitude early on in the game when she got in foul trouble and that took away some of her aggressiveness and ability to go get rebounds. But when she made it through the third quarter with only three (fouls), she was able to be a little bit more aggressive and I thought that showed in her rebounding."
Both teams then went scoreless for over two minutes in the fourth quarter, before Marshall’s Taryn Long knocked down a triple right in front of her own bench, and then a basket with just 40 seconds left to play from Tucker to give the Redhawks the lead back, 41-40.
Tucker finished with a team-high 14 points and seven rebounds to lead Marshall, while Long chipped in with 10 points in the win.
Boensch knocked down a pair of free throws that would give the Bobcats a 42-41 lead with 14 seconds remaining, but Marshall pushed the ball down the court and came up with two offensive rebounds, including one by Tucker where she was fouled on a shot attempt that would send her to the line for the game-winning free throws.
Konkle, who played on the last Marshall team to advance to the state finals in 1981, said that for her players to have the opportunity to play for a state title on Saturday is something they’ve dreamt about for years.
“It means a lot to me, because I was on that team,” she said. “So you just want your kids to experience what you experienced in high school and going to the state finals was one of the best experiences I ever had. We lost, and these guys are going to see to it that we don’t lose, but it’s just a great experience.
“We’ve had a heck of a year, we’ve had some tragedies and things happen in our community and the kids have come together and I think it’s only made them stronger and the fact that we’re in the state finals is something that these guys have dreamed about forever.”
In the Class B final, Marshall will face Grand Rapids South Christian, who beat Detroit Country Day in the first semifinal.