Standing in their way, however, is yet another talented challenger — the Benton Harbor Tigers.
“You don’t get to the state quarterfinals by accident,” said Spring Lake head coach Bill Core. “Benton Harbor finished runners-up in Class B in 2014, so they aren’t going to be caught up in the moment.
“We realize that it only gets tougher from here, but we’re playing with a lot of confidence right now.”
The No. 5-ranked Tigers stand at 21-3 on the season and defeated Wayland Union, 60-57, with a buzzer-beater in the Class B regional final last Wednesday.
Against Union, senior point guard Roy Anderson led the Tigers with 19 points, four rebounds and four assists, while Shawn Hopkins had a double-double with 16 points and 10 boards. Elijah Baxter, who knocked down the game-winning shot, finished with nine points and five assists.
“They like to use full-court pressure on defense to try and create turnovers and steals,” added Core. “That can turn into easy buckets the other way if you aren’t careful. That will be a relatively new challenge for us, because we weren’t really pressed much this year.
“Part of that is our ability to use two ball handlers to break the press with Cam (Ball) and Isaiah (Pierce). When they aren’t pressing, they use a man-to-man halfcourt defense.”
On offense, the Tigers run a four-guard attack with one post-player manning the paint. Freshman center Carlos Johnson serves as the team’s leading scorer, and will be a force to be reckoned with on the glass.
“Carlos Johnson averages a double-double for them,” Core added. “He has great hands, good anticipation, and is a quick jumper. He gets in great position in the post, and that allows him to be very effective as an offensive rebounder.
“He might be one of the best offensive rebounders I’ve seen in awhile. So, it’ll be important that we box out and limit his offensive second-chance opportunities. They try and penetrate and get the ball to Johnson down low after they draw a second defender to the ball, so limiting penetration will be another key for us.”
• Not much size
• Not great shooting team
• Very limited bench depth
Shawn Hopkins (6-2, 154 pounds) vs. Sam Johnson
Freshman center Carlos Johnson (6-5, 205 pounds) vs. Griffin Lorimer
Elijah Baxter (5-10, 152 pounds) vs. Cam Ball
Senior guard Roy Anderson (5’10, 155 pounds) vs. Isaiah Pierce
George Walker (6-0, 160) vs. Jack VanWingen
KEYS TO VICTORY
If the Lakers are going to advance to the state semifinals for the first time in program history, it will hinge on their ability to take care of the ball. If Spring Lake can limit their turnovers against the press, take advantage of their height in the post, and limit the Tigers’ dribble-drive ability, they will put themselves in a great position to make history.
PREDICTION: Spring Lake 66, Benton Harbor 60
Benton Harbor will test Spring Lake with their lateral quickness on the perimeter, but I don’t think the Tigers will have an answer for Griffin Lorimer and Sam Johnson in the paint. I expect Spring Lake’s bench depth to be the difference late in the game, and help send the Lakers to the Breslin Center on Friday.