EAST LANSING - No one at the Breslin Center remembered to put down a high school-length three-point line until both of Thursday's Class C state girls' basketball semifinals were completed.
There was no need for the Houghton girls' basketball team to file a protest, however, because the Gremlins actually shot better from outside the college-sized arc than inside it. It's hard to beat any team shooting 20 percent from the field, much less Saginaw Nouvel, and that's a big reason why the Panthers and not the Gremlins will play Manchester in Saturday's championship game.
"We really feel we had some good outside shooters, some good mid-range shooters and they might have been rushed a little bit, but I was hoping we could knock a few more down early," Houghton coach Julie Filpus said.
Brandon Veale/Daily Mining Gazette
Houghton's Elisa Jurmu tries to cut through a double-team including Saginaw Nouvel's Rachel McInerney during the second half of Thursday's 44-32 Gremlin loss in East Lansing.
Houghton made just three field goals in the entire first half: an Elisa Jurmu lay-up and Blaire Zenner post move on back-to-back first-quarter possessions and a Sydney Dillinger three midway through the second quarter. They missed 20, making for a 13.0 first-half percentage.
Though decent defense and five free throws kept the game from getting out of hand before halftime, the Gremlins never got enough going offensively to make the second half more than a draw.
The final totals were 11-for-55 from the field, 4-of-19 from three.
As Filpus noted, the Panthers' zone defense provided opportunities for offensive rebounds, and the Gremlins collected 12, same as their opponents. But an offensive rebound only matters if it leads to a make, and on one particularly frustrating second-quarter possession, Houghton had four such rebounds on the same possession and didn't score.
Complicating things significantly was Nouvel's sizable frontcourt, led by 6-foot-2 junior center Rachel McInerney. She had 12 defensive rebounds herself as part of a 17-board night. When she wasn't collecting the aftermath of Houghton misses, she was playing a big part in their generation by contesting the shots, convincing Houghton players not to take them or just blocking them, which she did five times to Jurmu, the Gremlins' leading scorer.
"I really don't know how many blocks she had but she definitely altered our shots," Filpus said.
The easiest shot to make in basketball is a lay-up and the Panthers weren't giving up many of those, either on the block or on the break.
Getting back effectively to defend themselves on the run, Houghton scored no fast-break points and instead had to find half-court opportunities that, even if they were good looks, were closed down quickly by a strong team defense.
"I thought they were shooting the ball very quickly and I think that was to our favor," Nouvel coach Kris Hengesbach said.
It wasn't just the Gremlins, though.
Nouvel will face a Manchester team in Saturday's title game that had a nasty drought of its own, recovering from shooting 1-for-19 in the first quarter to defeat Riverview Gabriel Richard 53-46 in the other C semi. In a Class D semi Thursday night, three-time defending state champ Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes scored zero points in the second quarter and still advanced to face St. Ignace for that title.
A big part of Houghton keeping Thursday's game from deteriorating into a blowout was senior guard Alexa Johnson heating up from behind the extended arc. She made three triples as part of her 11 points, all in the second half, as Houghton closed to within eight late, but no further.
"We had to rely a lot on the perimeter and when the shots don't fall, that's going to spell trouble," Filpus said.