When the pressure was on Grand Haven to perform after blowing a 17-point third-quarter lead against Holland Christian on Tuesday at Grand Haven Fieldhouse, the Bucs simply relied on what helped them build such a commanding advantage in the first place.
Dial up the pressure.
Grand Haven forced Holland Christian into four critical turnovers in overtime, helping the host Bucs stave off an impressive second-half rally by the Maroons in a 61-52 final in the season opener for both squads.
“Coach (Steve) Hewitt calmed us down, but we knew we could win this,” said Grand Haven guard Sean Steffel, who scored a career-high 24 points. “Once we got to overtime, we looked at each other and we knew we still had the game.”
Grand Haven held a commanding 39-22 lead with under 6 minutes to play in the third, yet Holland Christian forward Kyle Steigenga almost single handily carried his team back. Steigenga, a 6-foot-5 junior, scored 19 of his game-high 31 points in the second half and overtime.
“I knew he was good from seeing him in their scrimmage, but I didn't think he would do that,” Hewitt said. “With the limited time we have to scout, I might have done something differently, but that's not to say it would have slowed him down any. He's a tough cover.”
Holland Christian closed the third quarter on a 15-3 run, bringing them to within 42-37 entering the fourth. The Maroons canned three 3-pointers during the spurt, including a pair by junior guard Jared Dykstra, as the Bucs' defense was drawn into the paint trying to slow down Steigenga.
“They started heating up and we weren't getting up on their shooters,” Steffel said. “And we started settling for outside shots.”
Steigenga's 3-point play with 18.9 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter brought the Maroons all the way back to a 49-49 tie, and they had a chance to win the game in regulation after the Bucs' Kevin LaCroix missed the front-end of a 1-and-1.
But the Maroons were forced into two tightly-contested shots with under 5 seconds left, and both were off the mark, keeping the game deadlocked and forcing overtime.
In the extra session, Hewitt reverted back to the Bucs' full-court pressure, which worked tremendously throughout the first half.
“Instead of just picking them up at half court, we extended it out and that really helped. It took them out of their rhythm,” Hewitt said. “I told the kids that we worked really hard to build that lead, so we better make sure we finish it off. To their credit, they played hard until the end.”
A split at the free throw line by Steigenga gave the Maroons a 50-49 lead to open overtime, but it would be their last advantage.
Grand Haven got a key corner 3-pointer from Steffel, and later, after they burned nearly a minute off the clock, the Bucs received a nice cut and power layup by Carter to give them a 54-50 advantage with nearly a minute remaining. Carter also notched his varsity career high with 13 points, and grabbed four rebounds.
“I definitely worked on my confidence by spending a lot of time on my game throughout the summer and in AAU (with Shoreline Hoops),” said Carter, a 6-3 forward. “Actually my brother (Josh) coached the team.”
Grand Haven iced its victory by canning five free throws in the final minute of action. It was a disastrous closing stretch for the Maroons, as they turned the ball over three times.
“We got it to overtime and we were pretty excited about that, but again, the pressure got turned up and we just had too many turnovers,” Holland Christian coach Kevin Koeman said. “We lost our primary inbounder (Jon Hop), who fouled out, and after that, we made some bad decisions.
“We're a young squad with seven juniors and one sophomore,” he added. “You can't simulate everything you'll see in a game during practice and quite frankly, we were nervous and a little scared. But I gotta give credit to our kids for not letting Grand Haven bury us.”
The Bucs had three-straight old-fashioned 3-point plays in the first quarter, which were created from turnovers from their full-court, man-to-man press. Grand Haven had a 16-7 lead after one, and saw that advantage swell to as large as 24-7 in the second quarter.
Steffel said the Bucs reverted to more of a 4-out style of offense, allowing their quick guards to create off the dribble. That suited Steffel just fine, as he beat his man to the rim repeatedly throughout the first half.
“We thought we could take them off the dribble,” he said. “We just didn’t want to settle for outside shots.”
LaCroix and Steffel – both lightening quick guards who are under 6 foot – led the defensive effort with three steals apiece in the contest. Their speed in the overtime also worked wonders.
Koeman was obviously thrilled with Steigenga's production, but would have liked to see more scoring balance. Guard Jared Dykstra was the team's next highest scorer with just six.
Steigenga also contributed five rebounds, two assists and two blocks in the defeat.
Steffel and LaCroix had three assists apiece, while fellow guard Ethan Groothuis led the team with five rebounds.
Junior Varsity: Grand Haven rolled past Holland Christian, 60-40. Schaefer Thelen sparked the Bucs with 20 points, six rebounds and four assists. Adam Abraham added 18 points and seven rebounds, while Isaac Love dropped in eight points.
Freshmen: Grand Haven defeated Holland Christian, 47-41. Jason Long and Drew Hewitt scored 10 points each, while Long and Dru Strainer each had seven rebounds.