When other teams are huffing and puffing in the fourth quarter, Spring Lake still has its foot on the gas.
Lakers’ varsity boys basketball coach Bill Core has the luxury of a wealth of talented seniors and confidence in several underclassmen to employ a deep playing rotation.
As a result, Spring Lake has simply worn down teams in the Lakers’ three victories, including Friday evening against Grant.
The scrappy Tigers stayed competitive with the Lakers through three quarters, but Spring Lake outscored their visiting rivals 18-9 in the fourth to secure a 58-39 victory. It was the Lakes Eight Conference opener for Spring Lake, while Grant suffered its second league loss and falls to 1-4 overall.
“We have the ability to play pretty decent half-court defense and I think that does wear down teams,” Core said. “Aside from Mona Shores on Wednesday, we have been able to take advantage of teams in the fourth.”
Spring Lake outscored Allendale in the fourth during in its season-opening win, 20-8, and Coopersville in the final quarter, 19-7.
Core felt his team lost its physical mindset late against Mona Shores on Wednesday, which cost the Lakers a win. That wasn’t the case against the Tigers, which suited guard Charlie Warber just fine.
Due to the suspension of guard J.P. Batts due to a school policy violation, Warber has moved to the starting lineup, where’s he’s thrived with his physical style of play.
“I like to play football on the basketball court,” he said with a grin. “Sometimes that gets me in trouble, but fortunately, the refs let us play tonight. Our team likes to play physical.
“Our defense makes our offense go, not the other way around,” he added.
The Lakers established their style early against the Tigers, holding the visitors to just four points at the end of the first quarter, and led by seven.
But Grant, which lost its top eight players from last season’s squad that finished second in the Lakes Eight, wasn’t intimidated. The Tigers remained within seven at 25-18 at the half, and then got to as close as 31-29 midway through the third quarter on a 3-pointer by senior guard Justin Bull. The hard-nosed point guard led the Tigers with 17 points — his season average.
But Grant had no answer for Spring Lake senior forward Austin Johnson, who led all scorers with 27 points. His strong drive to the paint and finish around three flat-footed Tigers sparked a strong finish to the third-quarter, which ended with a corner 3-pointer by sophomore Kyle Zietlow and a 40-30 Lakers’ advantage.
Grant coach Josh Delamater said Johnson will be “by far” the best player the Tigers will face this season.
“He’s definitely tops in our conference,” he said. “It’s tough, because you kind of have to pick your poison. You either have to focus on shutting him down and risk their other players hurting you or let him get his (points). He definitely got his tonight.”
Delamater said the Tigers were able to stay competitive because they took care of the ball. Their 12 turnovers were a much better showing than the 20 a game they had been averaging.
Still, by the time Johnson sank his 27th point — coming on an extremely tough jumper on an angle nearly behind the backboard — Spring Lake had a 55-35 lead with under 3 minutes to play.
“His intensity is by far the most I’ve seen from any player,” Warber said of Johnson. “He just gets to into the game.”
Johnson was boosted by a tremendous 11-of-12 showing at the free throw line.
But Johnson wasn’t the only weapon. The “other” Johnson, senior forward Erik, continued his steady play with 10 points and eight rebounds, while Core raved about his floor general, senior Adam Clauss.
“He may not score a lot, but tonight he had five assists, one turnover, five rebounds and a steal,” Core said. “The other team’s point guards had one point, he gets us in our offense, calls out out-of-bounds plays, looks for mismatches. He’s just invaluable to us as a three-year varsity point guard.”
Core also pointed out some nice production off the bench from freshman Keegan George, who had five rebounds and two blocks. Junior center Ryan Nolan also had three blocks.
Spring Lake plays hosts to a pair of non-conference foes next week in Shelby on Tuesday and Grand Haven on Friday. The showdown with the Bucs has already been talked about extensively amongst the Lakers, Warber said.
“It’s a chance to prove to ‘big brother’ kind of thing that we’re still good,” Warber said. “We want to show that we can maintain the competition.”