GRAND HAVEN TWP.—Grand Haven basketball fans have gotten their money’s worth at home this season, as the Bucs have taken an affinity for late comebacks and overtime periods.
That was the case Saturday as the Bucs defeated Traverse City West, 60-58, in overtime to clinch their second Lakeshore Cup title in as many years, leaving them the sole winner of the Lakeshore Paddle.
“This was a very competitive tournament,” Grand Haven head coach Greg Immink said. “We had four really good teams here playing in lots of close games. I’m very happy we can come out with two wins over teams that will win a lot of games this year. Its a little stressful on the sidelines to keep going down to the wire like this, but the good news is we are learning how to win tight games and coming out on top.
“(Saturday) our guys made the plays down the stretch when we needed to. Credit to Traverse City for playing a whale of a game, especially with injury struggles. They made shots when they needed to and played tough defense. Coach Fry did a great job over there.”
A third-quarter comeback and fourth-quarter surge put the Bucs back in the game after falling behind by nine coming out of halftime. Senior forward and tournament MVP Kellum Bridgeforth started the rally for the Bucs with three minutes left to play in the third quarter.
Down 27-36, Bridgeforth imposed his will, converting on three straight Grand Haven possessions. His eight-point surge brought the Bucs within one point with 1:26 left in the period. But, the Titans responded with back-to-back three-pointers, broadening their lead. Heading into the final period, Traverse City West led Grand Haven 44-39.
“Defense really got us rolling there,” Immink said. “We got a few steals and then Kellum hit a few threes. We needed a breath there because we were not in a good spot, and he gave it too us. He is a senior and has been around and showed some leadership there.”
The fourth quarter saw a tremendous physical effort by the Bucs as they took control of the game with increased rebounding and defensive effort.
With 3:15 left in regulation, Malic Love converted a transition layup after a steal by Bridgeforth to tie the game at 51. Casey Constant continued a red-hot shooting night on the next Bucs possession, nailing a three to build their lead.
Undaunted, the Titans took to the hoop for a bucket, drawing an extra free throw. They would miss the game-tying shot, giving the Bucs possession with one minute left to play.
A tremendous trapping effort by the Titans forced two timeouts by the Bucs in order to retain possession. The pressure eventually got the best of Love, who travelled with 30 seconds left on the game clock. Traverse City took advantage, nailing a lead-changing three-pointer with 20 seconds left.
After a timeout with 13 seconds left, Constant drove to the hoop, drawing a host of Titans into the paint, before kicking the ball out to sophomore shooter Drew Sinke. Down by two, Sinke let loose a game-winning three. The shot fell short off the rim, where Constant grabbed the rebound for a buzzer-beating put back, tying the game at 56 and forcing overtime.
“The guys really dug in,” Immink said of the fourth quarter. “The last couple of games we have been able to finish strong. Tonight was no different. Now, we just have to figure out how to play with that intensity for the whole game.”
In overtime, Grand Haven employed patience, as long possessions limited each team to just a couple possessions. With 2:21 left in the period, the Bucs struck first as Constant drew a foul and converted a perfect trip to the free throw line.
The Titans responded with a quick drive for two, knotting the game up at 58. Grand Haven killed more time, calling timeout with 11 seconds left. On the ensuing play, Bridgeforth drew a foul with 2.4 seconds to play, sinking both shots to seal the victory.
“It was a bit of a chess game in overtime,” Immink said. “Both teams trying to get themselves in position to have the ball or the lead at the end of a short frame. Our guys did a good job of taking care of the ball and hitting free throws, which enabled us to win the game.”
Constant led the way in scoring for the Bucs with a game-high 23 points, followed by Bridgeforth with 21. Love added nine points to the effort, while Dimitrious Neely had five and Sinke had two.
“Casey (Constant) had an outstanding game,” Immink said. “He played a game that he has been playing consistently for us all season.”
Miigwaanhs Berrientoz led the Titans with 19 points, followed by Brady Stoerkel with 17.
Bridgeforth and Bryce Taylor’s efforts over the weekend earned them spots on the All-Tournament team, while Bridgeforth took home the honor of tournament MVP. Joining them on the All-Tournament team was Jake Lee and Seth Man from Petoskey, Berrientoz, and Keishon Watson from Muskegon Heights.
“Both those guys are very deserving of that All-Tournament nod,” Immink said. “Bryce has been so steady for us all year. (Friday) he kept us alive with his shooting and always does the little things to help us win.
“Kellum obviously came through down the stretch when we were in a tough spot down by nine and in overtime. He really showed his offensive and defensive leadership this weekend.”
The Bucs return to the court next week for one final non-conference jaunt as they take on Reeths-Puffer on Tuesday, before opening the O-K Red Conference season hosting East Kentwood on Jan. 5.