Western Michigan Christian brought a defensive intensity and overall energy that Spring Lake’s varsity boys basketball team couldn’t match in the early going at Spring Lake High School on Saturday.
As a result, the Lakers had to play catch up throughout the second half, and they nearly caught up to the Warriors during their non-conference showdown.
The Warriors had to hold their breath as Lakers’ point guard Adam Clauss heaved a tough 3-point attempt at the buzzer that struck the back iron and bounced away, allowing WMC to hold on for an impressive 49-47 victory.
“From the bench, it looked good,” said Spring Lake coach Bill Core of the final shot.
After a 0-2 start, the Warriors (7-3 overall) have been red hot, including strong non-conference wins over Reeths-Puffer, Mona Shores and now the Lakers.
“Every win is enjoyable, but when it goes down to the wire and you have so many guys contribute and when you have to battle like that, it does make it feel sweeter,” said WMC coach Kyle Mastenbrook.
The Warriors needed others to step up because junior center Bernard Smith — the team’s leading scorer and rebounder — battled foul trouble throughout and finished with just eight points.
“That was a tribute to Nick Goeglein,” said Core, speaking of the Lakers’ junior center. “He took it right at Bernard offensively and also got one or two over-the-backs called on him. Nick played one of his best games of the year.”
Still, WMC roared out of the gates with a 15-6 lead after one quarter, and pushed the advantage to 29-17 at the half. The Lakers were ice cold from the floor, hitting just 5-of-22 in the first half. WMC did a tremendous job of limiting Lakers’ standout forward Austin Johnson, who entered the game averaging nearly 26 points a contest.
“They face-guarded him the entire evening and completely turned the back to the ball,” Core said. “They had no idea where the ball was, but it was their intent on taking him out of the game. Austin really had to work for all of his 17 points.”
“He’s a tough player, but we also had some tough kids defending him,” Mastenbrook added, highlighting Logan Waller, James Jackson and Alex Rop.
Spring Lake finally began to chip away in the third, as the Lakers outscored the Warriors 15-8 to claw back in contention.
But WMC remained in front thanks to senior forward Henry DeKam, who scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half. “He hit a lot of tough shots,” Core said. “He hit some fall-aways from 15 feet and some other clutch big baskets for them.”
Spring Lake made things exciting in the closing seconds. First, it secured a loose ball and found Charlie Warber open for a 3-pointer, cutting WMC’s lead to two with 12 seconds left. The Lakers fouled Smith near mid-court and the 6-foot-5, 275-pound center missed both, giving the hosts a chance for the win.
“The plan was to screen and get the ball to Johnson and let him set up to penetrate and drive, or if they crashed down, then he could kick out,” Core said.
But WMC denied Johnson the ball, putting it in Clauss’ hands with 10 seconds on the clock. He passed away and then got the ball back for the desperation three that was just off the mark.
Guard Nate Taylor and wing Jackson each had seven points to spark the Warriors. Smith led with 11 rebounds, while DeKam snared eight.
Erik Johnson had 10 points and seven rebounds for the Lakers, while Johnson led with 10 boards. Goeglein added eight points and Warber had three steals and three assists.
Junior Varsity: WMC cruised past Spring Lake, 50-32. Ben Mast led WMC with 13 points, followed by Jared Varnado with nine and Riley Arkema added eight.
Freshmen: The Warriors topped the Lakers, 50-43. Demonta Bartee led WMC with 13 points followed by Chris Hain with 12 while Jordan Rhodes and Devon Kitchen each put up 10. Erik Sieversten led the Lakers with eight points. Sam Ventocilla added seven, and Drew Johnson grabbed eight rebounds.