With about 90 percent of West Ottawa’s near-capacity crowd sporting pink T-shirts in celebration of the school’s “Pink Out” cancer awareness game, the scene was a dizzying spectacle in a contest that felt a lot like a postseason affair.
For Eidson and Aerosmith, pink was indeed “love at first sight.”
The Bucs’ guard hit a pair of clutch 3-pointers in the closing 35 seconds, including the game-winner with 4.1 seconds remaining, lifting Grand Haven to a stunning comeback victory, 45-44. It was the Bucs’ fifth win in their last six games, improving their record to 9-6 overall and 7-4 in the O-K Red Conference.
Grand Haven trailed by as many as nine points in the fourth quarter, but outscored the host “Pink” Panthers 14-4 in the final 4 minutes of action.
The Bucs got several key defensive stops in the closing minutes to spark the comeback, but offensively, it was Eidson who put his team on his back. After strapped to the bench throughout much of the first half with two fouls, Eidson scored 24 of his game-high 27 points in the second half.
To see more photos of Friday's game, click here.
Eidson said his final pair of 3-pointers ranked pretty high on his list of thrilling moments throughout his three-year varsity career.
“It’s pretty high up there,” he said. “There were a couple games against Rockford my sophomore year, including the regional final, that were pretty exciting.”
Eidson’s 3-pointer from the wing with 35 seconds to play cut the Bucs’ deficit to 44-42. Instead of milking valuable time off the clock and forcing Grand Haven to foul, West Ottawa settled for a jumper that was badly off the mark, giving the Bucs the rebound and the ball in their top scorer’s hands.
“Alex was really composed. He looked in control, so we decided not to call timeout,” Grand Haven coach Steve Hewitt said. “I guess it’s worked for us two games in a row, so we may be on to something.”
Eidson also hit the game-winning jumper in the lane against Rockford on Tuesday.
Friday’s winning shot was a little deeper.
“That last one, I tried to get the clock down to 8 or 9 seconds and I just read what (the West Ottawa defender) did,” Eidson said. “I hesitated and if he dropped off me, I was going to shoot.”
After the shot hit nothing but net, West Ottawa coach Jeff VanFossan quickly called timeout. The Panthers set up a good play, passing back to forward Ato Condelee for an open 3, but the shot was off the mark, igniting a wild celebration amongst the Bucs, as Eidson leapt into the arms of his celebrating teammates.
The frenzied finish differed greatly from a poor first half, as both teams struggled with turnovers and missed opportunities offensively. Grand Haven had a 9-2 lead after one quarter, then went cold themselves in the second, making only one field goal.
“Defensively, West Ottawa played really well,” Hewitt said. “They took a lot of our looks away that we had the first meeting. Our basket cuts and dribble drives weren’t there. We started forcing things and settling for poor shots.”
The Bucs’ 12-9 halftime lead quickly evaporated, as West Ottawa’s quick guards — including Marquise Hatter and Taylor Otterman — began beating the Bucs with dribble penetration and creating open looks.
Hatter’s quick drive, spin and running bank shot near the buzzer gave the Panthers a 30-24 advantage entering the fourth. The senior point guard led the Panthers with 11 points.
West Ottawa’s advantage increased to nine on a pair of occasions in the fourth, until Grand Haven began forcing turnovers by turning back to its full-court trapping.
“We were scrambling to make something happen,” Hewitt said. “We actually tried to put on (the trap) earlier, but it wasn’t successful. The last 4 minutes, we got some breaks.”
“We were just thinking we had to get some stops,” Eidson added. “Matt Davis came in off the bench and gave us some energy, and Danny (Cotter) and Matt Kroll really got after them and forced them into shots they didn’t want to take, and we were able to capitalize from it.”
Eidson was the only Bucs’ player to reach double figures. Sean Steffel totaled six points, while Cotter had five. Kroll grabbed a team-best five rebounds and Jeremy Lattig had two steals.
Hewitt said a loss on Friday could have been two steps back from Tuesday’s huge win at Rockford, but he was proud of the determination his players showed when the chips were stacked against them.
“When we were down nine, there’s only two choices: hang your head or keep fighting,” he said. “I give credit for these kids for doing that. It wasn’t just Alex, either. All of them defended and got us back into it.”