Grand Haven’s varsity boys basketball team is proving it can contend with the so-called favorites of the O-K Red Conference.
But it’s also clear that the Bucs aren’t ready to be labeled a favorite themselves.
Grand Haven’s physical defense shined bright through the first half on Friday, helping the Bucs take a 16-13 lead over rival Rockford at Grand Haven Fieldhouse.
But much like its downfall on Tuesday against O-K Red leader East Kentwood, Grand Haven couldn’t put a full 32-minute effort together to clinch a victory.
Rockford’s backcourt duo of Chase Fairchild and Chad Carlson caught fire in the third quarter, leading the defending Class A state runners-up to a 52-45 victory.
The loss drops Grand Haven to 5-6 overall and 0-2 in the O-K Red Conference, while Rockford improves to 7-3, 2-0.
Grand Haven coach Steve Hewitt was frustrated with his team’s third-quarter performance, in which they were outscored 19-6.
“We just didn’t attack,” he said. “I don’t believe we even got a shot off through the first 4-5 minutes of the quarter. Maybe we got one off and it was a bad one at that.
“We’re learning some tough lessons right now and unfortunately, it’s against very good teams.”
Carlson, the Rams’ 5-foot-8 jolt-of-energy point guard, connected on back-to-back 3-pointers with under 4 minutes to play in the third, helping Rockford turn in a 12-0 run that put them comfortably ahead, 29-18.
When Carlson wasn’t burning the Bucs, it was Fairchild, who led the Rams with 23 points.
“They played how we expected them to,” Hewitt said. “It was just a case of our guys losing them and not doing their responsibility defensively. That’s disappointing.
“(Rockford) didn’t do anything differently in the second half, expect maybe they played harder. We didn’t respond.”
Grand Haven closed to within seven at 39-32 with 4:17 to play, but Fairchild provided a dagger with a huge 3-pointer nearly 30 seconds later. The Rams then sealed the win by connecting on 8-of-11 from the free throw line in the closing 2 minutes of play. They finished a stellar 17-of-21 from the charity stripe.
Grand Haven guard Sean Steffel again paced the Bucs with 20 points, while forward Ty VanWieren added eight and guard Ethan Groothuis scored seven.
Hewitt said it may be a good thing that the Bucs have Tuesday off to recover from a rough stretch.
“We’ve got to find a way to win these close games,” he said. “We’ve got to play with confidence for 32 minutes and we’re going to find out in a hurry if we’re able to do that.”