The Bucs took an all business approach to their defeat of Union, 52-47, earning them a date with Muskegon in the district title game for the third straight year.
Before they got a crack at revenge, however, there was the matter of the Red Hawks, who were red-hot Wednesday night.
Photos from Wednesday’s game
“They shot very well tonight,” Grand Haven head coach Greg Immink said of Union. “We were fortunate that the ones they did miss we got a lot of off the defensive glass.”
Union hit 10 3s over the course of the contest, using their outside shooting prowess to keep up with Grand Haven’s laser-focused game on both ends of the court.
“You have to be focused this time of the year,” Immink said. “It is the end of the season, these are all good teams now. You are going to see teams with the ability to put the ball in the hoop, and they did that tonight and shot very well from the outside. Fortunately for us, we made enough plays to keep up.”
Those plays came courtesy of incredible ball movement by the Bucs, who were unfazed by Union’s new defensive looks. Pass-happy transitions overcame a hard press with the ball flying all over the court, frequently hitting all five players before settling down for an offensive look.
“We did an excellent job in the first half handling their 2-2-1 half-court trap and their 1-3-1 half-court trap,” Immink said. “Our guys showed a lot of poise in the way they handled that and the pressure. They just moved the ball really well.”
Once the defense was properly befuddled, the Bucs had their entire starting lineup sharing and firing. Grand Haven put forth a balanced scoring attack with Zac Holman, Clay Landsman and Drew VanAndel all scoring a team-high 12 points.
Ross Koella followed with nine points, while Casey Constant put in seven.
Landsman made his living from downtown, draining three 3s —with two in the first quarter to get the Bucs rolling. Holman took over when the shooting went cold, scoring 10 of his 12 in the second half from all over the court, while VanAndel and Koella got theirs the old fashioned way, scrapping in the paint.
VanAndel hit a shot in every quarter of play, and finished 4-4 from the free throw line in what may have been a revenge game for the former Grand Haven soccer standout. The Red Hawks were responsible for the end of the Bucs’ pitch playoff performance this fall.
While the starters handled scoring, it was a strong bench performance that limited Union’s leading scorer to below-average totals Wednesday.
“Dimitrius Nealy off the bench made a huge contribution defensively,” Immink said. “(Quantes) Jackson had a good game, as he does, but in the second and third quarters I thought Dimitrius came in and did a great job keeping him off balance and making him take tough shots. I was very pleased with that, it gave us a nice lift.”
The defensive effort allowed the Bucs to play their own game, despite the Red Hawks holding the score close. They sat tied through the first quarter at 13 points each. In the second, Jackson managed just four points, allowing the Bucs to pull ahead, 28-22.
The lead shrunk in the third, with the Red Hawks pulling within four, 40-36. Despite the close quarters, the Bucs kept plugging away, eventually hitting four straight free throws in the final minute of play to ice the victory.
“They won 14 games this year, that is a very good season,” Immink said of Union after the game. “They are a very solid team.”
After what seemed like a formality game against Union, Grand Haven now turns to face history, with yet another bout with Muskegon for the district title come Friday.
“We are excited about being in the final again. That is three straight for Grand Haven, hopefully this year we bring home the trophy.”
The Bucs “lost big” as Coach Immink put it to a 2015 Muskegon team featuring now Memphis Grizzly Deyonta Davis and fell last season by just four points.
The Big Reds handled Kenowa Hills in the late game at Muskegon High School on Wednesday, 72-24, setting up a rematch for the ages in the Big Red gymnasium Friday at 7 p.m.