Grand Haven jumped out to an early lead and never relinquished it in a tense 57-48 victory over Muskegon.
“That’s really sweet to go 2-0 against Muskegon,” said Bucs’ senior Jeremy Lattig, who brought plenty of energy to the court and finished with 16 points and five rebounds. “They’re just 15 minutes down the road, so we know a lot of those guys.
“We came out strong and built that early lead, and that helped a lot.”
The Buccaneers scored the game’s first five points and held the Big Reds scoreless for the first four minutes of the contest. Lattig’s 3-pointer gave the Bucs a 10-2 lead, and Alex Eidson’s long triple later in the first made it 15-8.
Ethan Groothuis buried a pair of free throws, then a Buccaneer steal and layup by Sean Steffel put the host team ahead 19-8 at the end of the first quarter.
The Buccaneers made it tough on the Big Reds defensively by pressuring Muskegon’s guards. Muskegon played without starter Juwan Loudermill, who was out with an injury, and the rest of the Big Reds proved turnover-prone against the Bucs’ press.
“We had good intensity level, and they were missing Loudermill, so we thought we could press them a little bit more,” said Bucs’ coach Steve Hewitt, whose team improves to 7-6 overall and 5-4 in league play.
As the game progressed, it was Muskegon’s pressure defense that began to wear down Grand Haven. The Big Reds forced the Bucs into several turnovers, but poor shooting from the floor limited the damage the Big Reds were able to inflict.
Muskegon also pounded the offensive boards to the tune of 16 offensive rebounds.
Grand Haven managed to maintain a double-digit lead throughout the game thanks to a patient offensive attack that looked for gaps in the Big Reds’ defense. The Bucs’ Eidson, Lattig and Danny Cotter excelled at getting into the paint and scoring from close range. Cotter chipped in with 12 points, and it’s been his improvement on the offensive end that has keyed the Bucs’ resent resurgence.
“Danny plays under control,” Hewitt said. “He’s a little unorthodox sometimes, but he’s very effective. He’s been a big part of the last few games.”
The Bucs led by 17 points, 46-27, after a bucket by senior Matt Kroll early in the fourth quarter. Muskegon was able to cut into that lead because the Bucs missed 11-of-20 free throws in the fourth quarter. Still, the Big Reds never got closer that nine points.
Eidson finished with five rebounds, three assists and three steals for the Bucs, while Kroll had six rebounds and three assists. Steffel dished out two assists and had three steals.
Eidson made a fantastic hustle play early in the third quarter. He had the ball stripped away, but he raced down the court and stepped in to draw a charge, wiping out a Muskegon layup. That play helped maintain a 32-19 Grand Haven lead.
Before the game, Grand Haven honored its seniors — Eidson, Lattig, Kroll, Cotter, Matt Davis and Brent Boerma. Eidson has been a starter on the varsity squad since his sophomore season, but the rest of that group spent most of last winter on the bench. They’ve made the most of their chance to contribute during their final year as a Buccaneer.
“It’s nice for these seniors, because a lot of them spent a lot of time on the bench last year,” Hewitt said. “They paid their dues, and now they’re having fun. This is a fun group.”
Even though Grand Haven will continue to play Muskegon as a non-conference game, Hewitt is disappointed to see the league rivalry between the two schools come to an end. The Big Reds will join the O-K White for the 2012-13 school year.
“We do have them scheduled already for next year, but still, it’s disappointing,” Hewitt said. “It’s bad for both schools. I like playing Muskegon because they bring out the best in you.”
The Bucs take to the road on Tuesday, visiting O-K Red-leading Rockford.