The Panthers came away with a 76-64 win thanks in large part to a hot start to the game and a full, four quarters of defensive effort.
More photos from Friday night’s game
West Ottawa knocked down the majority of their first-quarter attempts, putting all the pressure on Grand Haven to answer. The first-quarter buzzer sounded with the Panthers holding a 16-6 lead.
In the second quarter, the Buccaneers battled back to cut the lead to 20-15, but the Panthers responded with an 8-0 run that changed the complexion of the game and had Grand Haven playing catch-up the rest of the game.
At halftime, the Panthers’ lead had swelled to 42-24 with the Buccaneers trying to find a way to slow down West Ottawa’s balanced scoring attack.
The third quarter saw West Ottawa get contributions from everyone in the playing rotation, as the Panthers held a 57-39 lead heading into the final quarter of play.
Grand Haven would put together a fourth-quarter rally to cut the lead to 10 points on several occasions, but every time, the senior-laden Panthers stymied the Bucs’ run and took control of the game.
The Panthers made enough stops and free throws down the stretch to leave the Grand Haven Fieldhouse with a 76-64, hard-fought conference road win.
West Ottawa improves to 3-0 in the O-K Red and extends their league winning streak to 18 games dating back to the 2015-16 season.
“West Ottawa came out focused, and they are a very good team,” said Grand Haven head coach Greg Immink. “I think they made their first six or seven shots, and they were rolling early. We can’t afford to let a good team like that get comfortable that early on in the game, and they did.
“It was an uphill battle after that.”
Senior guard Tyler Bosma scored 18 points to lead the Panthers (6-1, 3-0 O-K Red), while fellow senior Xavier Wade added 16. Senior forward Liam Cavanaugh poured in 15 points, while senior Nick Wehrmeyer and junior Jason Fairfield each added 11.
“We were very balanced tonight,” said West Ottawa head coach Steve Windemuller. “That’s a coach’s dream right there. We had kids that made plays late and other kids that made free throws when we needed them. All 14 guys left their mark on this one, either it was making a big defensive stop or knocking down a shot.
“We shot the ball well, but I was happier with how well we defended. Grand Haven is a good team that can score and shoot well. They play with a lot of energy, but we can play that way, too.”
Windemuller was also impressed with the team’s composure after the entire West Ottawa community was shocked by the news that the son of West Ottawa superintendent Thomas Martin had died tragically.
“The guys were focused and ready to play and that wasn’t easy,” he said. “We were all playing with heavy hearts after the news about the Martin family. Our hearts go out to them and the entire community is feeling it right now.
“I was proud of the guys for their effort tonight, and this was a big road win for us. It shows the type of maturity and mental toughness that they possess that they were even able to go out there and compete at a high level.”
Senior forward Kellum Bridgeforth scored 25 points to lead the Bucs (7-2, 1-1 O-K Red), while Casey Constant had 12; Drew Sinke added 10 and Malic Love chipped in with nine.
“I do like the way our guys fought back and made it interesting down the stretch,” Immink added. “West Ottawa is a great team and they have a lot of seniors and juniors who are three or four-year varsity players. They’ve been through a lot of big games and big moments.
“We aren’t really into moral victories that much, but I was pleased with the effort and the way we battled against a very good team.”
Grand Haven hosts Hudsonville on Tuesday with tip-off slated for 7 p.m.
Freshmen: Grand Haven defeated West Ottawa, 45-42. L.J. Barber scored nine points to lead the Bucs, while Landon VanBeek and Gabe Taylor each added seven.