Eidson was a literally a few breaths away from having his prep career ended by the rival Big Reds. But thanks to a crafty move by the senior guard, Grand Haven is still breathing; its season still alive.
Eidson drew a foul on a desperation 3-point heave with just 2.1 seconds remaining and then calmly sank all three free throws to give Grand Haven a 47-45 lead.
Muskegon called timeout with 1.8 seconds showing the clock and set up a play for senior guard Trellis Loudermill, but his last-gasp shot was off the mark, giving the Bucs their third — and most important — victory over the Big Reds this season.
For more photos from Friday night's game, click here.
The win sends Grand Haven (13-10 overall) to Monday’s regional semfinals at Traverse City Central High School where the Bucs will face Petoskey (22-1), an honorable mention pick in Class A. Petoskey is Grand Haven coach Steve Hewitt’s hometown team.
“They only have one loss, but they don’t play in the O-K Red, either,” Hewitt said.
Friday’s win for Grand Haven avenged a loss to Muskegon in last season’s district tournament. The year before that was the Bucs’ last district title on their way to the state quarterfinals.
Eidson was a sophomore on that squad, but he said his second district championship is personally much sweeter.
“Two years ago, that team was more expected to win it,” said Eidson, who scored 15 points. “This year, not a lot of people thought we could do it, but we proved if we play together and play hard for an entire game, we can get it done.”
Grand Haven got it done Friday thanks in large part to Muskegon’s multiple misses at the free throw line. The Big Reds hit just 11-of-28 at the charity stripe and missed the front-end of their final two 1-and-1 attempts.
“If we make free throws, we win the game,” said Muskegon coach Bernard Loudermill, whose squad finishes its season at 11-11. “We felt we did a good job executing our game plan defensively at the end. We had a foul to give and I felt we fouled him prior to the shot.
“(Eidson) made a good basketball move. He made his free throws and we didn’t and that was difference.”
Eidson said the plan was to initially pass off on the Bucs’ final possession and have the Big Reds’ defenders chase instead of solely focusing on him. Their tight pressure altered that plan, however, as Eidson was trapped near the sideline with time ticking down.
“I felt them trying to foul me, so I just elevated and tried to get a shot off,” he said.
Muskegon players were in disbelief by the call, but the feeling was obviously different on Grand Haven’s side.
“I would have been irate if they wouldn’t have called that,” Hewitt said. “Yeah, it goes against Muskegon, but it was the right call.
“When Alex went to the line, I turned around to his dad (Bob Eidson), who is my JV coach and said, ‘This is what he lives for.’ I felt pretty good about it.”
Those good feelings were missing throughout much of the first half, as Eidson was whistled for two fouls in the opening 3 minutes and with him on the bench, the
Bucs struggled to handle Muskegon’s full-court pressure.
“Sean (Steffel) is getting a bad rap for it, but really, we didn’t handle (the pressure) well as a team,” Hewitt said. “Guys were too far down the court and we couldn’t handle it.”
Grand Haven senior Jeremy Lattig hit a pair of key 3-pointers in the first half to keep the Bucs’ heads above water and down just 26-23 at the half.
“Jeremy came out and hit two big 3’s and he was finishing really well at the rim,” Eidson said.
The senior duo connected on a sweet fast-break opportunity late in the third quarter, as Eidson found Lattig trailing with a no-look pass, allowing the 6-foot-1 wing to convert an easy layup.
But the Big Reds still had a 36-35 lead at the end of three, and then pushed the advantage to three on a pair of occassions early in the fourth.
Grand Haven fought back and eventually tied the contest at 42-all following an acrobatic bank shot by Eidson and one of two made free throws by Matt Kroll.
The two rivals then alternated buckets — a tough scoop shot by the Big Reds’ Jhamonte Melton, and a low-post score by the Bucs’ Ty VanWieren — before the final frantic 30 seconds.
“I admit, I was nervous, but I knew we’d had one more shot at the end,” said Lattig, who scored a game-high 16 points. “(When I heard that whistle), I just thought, ‘He better not miss.’ I honestly had complete confidence he’d make all three.”
Forward Travell Oakes thrived on second-chance opportunities on the offensive glass throughout and led the Big Reds with 15 points. Loudermill added 14.
For Hewitt, his third district title as Grand Haven’s head coach holds special meaning.
“This was a group that had lower expectations, for sure,” he said. “It’s a group that has struggled as freshmen and sophomores. But it’s such a fun group of kids to coach because they surprise you everyday.
“I expected them to be in the hunt, but to make it a reality, it’s very sweet.”