OTTAWA — With Marquette girls basketball coach Todd Hopkins and senior starting guard Allison Taylor both sharing a birthday on Monday, Hopkins had one request: no birthday cake.
Instead, the Lady Crusaders gave their birthday celebrators something much, much better in Monday’s Tri-County Conference Tournament semifinal against Putnam County.
Despite being down by double digits in the second quarter and going without a point during a 5-minute, 55-second span in the first half, No. 3-seeded Marquette recovered and made enough plays and free throws down the stretch to earn a 49-43 upset win over No. 2-seeded PC.
The win gave Taylor and Hopkins a very happy birthday.
“Everyone kept telling me, ‘Happy birthday’ and I told them, ‘We’ll see after the game,’” Hopkins joked. “But it was. Today was a good day, and this really topped it off. No question about that.”
Taylor played a big role in the win.
Despite scoring just three points in the first three quarters, the senior guard scored seven in the fourth quarter, including going 5-for-7 from the foul line in the game’s final 3:43.
“I was really looking forward to this all weekend,” said Taylor, who turned 18. “It would’ve put a damper on it if (we didn’t win), so this makes it even better.”
With the victory, Marquette (15-7) advances to the TCC Tournament title game at 8 p.m. Thursday where it will meet top-seeded Peoria Christian, which beat No. 4-seeded Roanoke-Benson/Lowpoint-Washburn 51-28 in Monday’s first semifinal.
Peoria Christian beat Marquette 52-26 when the teams played Nov. 29 in Peoria.
“If we come out and play our game with the Crazy Cru on our home court, I think we can do pretty well,” Taylor said. “We just have to do what we’re taught to do and we should be should fine.”
Just like Marquette did on Monday.
Despite Putnam County taking a 21-9 lead with 5:17 left in the second quarter, Marquette stayed close, rallied and took its first advantage with 3:33 left in the third quarter.
In a back-and-forth fourth quarter, PC took a two-point lead three times and led 41-39 with less than three minutes to go.
However, back-to-back post baskets by Marquette’s Alice Salt turned the two-point deficit into a two-point Lady Cru advantage with 1:23 remaining.
Following a missed 3-point shot by PC’s Daniela Pavlovich and a Lady Panther turnover, Marquette’s Angela Evola was fouled. Shooting double-bonus free throws, she went 1-for-2 as the Lady Cru took a 44-41 lead with 1:05 left.
After another PC turnover and a Marquette timeout, Taylor was fouled and sank both of her double-bonus free throws to increase the lead to 46-41 with 28.2 seconds left.
A driving lay-in by PC’s Carly Gonet pulled the Lady Panthers to 46-43 with 19 seconds to go, but a free throw from Taylor increased the lead to 47-43 with 17.6 seconds remaining.
Following a missed 3-point shot from PC’s Stephanie Wilson, Marquette’s Marissa Gama made two free throws with 8.6 seconds to go to seal the win.
“The first 13 minutes of the game we came out, executed well and we worked on the defensive side,” PC coach James Barnett said. “But I think we became comfortable, and once you become comfortable it’s really hard to turn it back on.”
Salt finished with a game-high 15 points, 13 of which came in the second half. Gama added 13 points, while Taylor had 10 points.
Gonet had a team-high 12 points for PC (18-4), while Pavlovich added 11 points.
While the Lady Panthers shot 17-for-35 (48.6 percent) from the floor, they were 2-for-14 (14.3 percent) from beyond the 3-point line.
Note: The tournament resumes Wednesday as Midland plays DePue at 6 p.m. in a consolation semifinal, while Henry meets Hall at 7:30 p.m. in the second consolation semifinal. The winners will play for fifth-place at 5 p.m. Thursday, with PC playing R-B/L-W for third place at 6:30 p.m. Thursday before the 8 p.m. title game.
Jared Bell can be reached at 220-6938, or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.