Grand Haven’s varsity boys basketball team has had more games than they care to count this season where they’ve had a lead and failed to finish out a potential win.
It looked like a case of history repeating itself on Friday at Grand Haven Fieldhouse, as the Bucs saw a 15-point lead evaporate in the third quarter against visiting Hudsonville.
“It’s like here we go again,” said Grand Haven senior guard Ethan Groothuis, who scored a season-high 21 points fueled by six 3-pointers. “But we’ve been working a lot in practice on end of the game situations. We had confidence in ourselves that we could finish it out.”
And for a change, the Bucs did.
Sean Steffel scored nine of his 18 points in the fourth quarter and the Bucs hit 10-of-15 from the free throw line to help it knock out the Eagles from first place in the O-K Red Conference with a surprising 65-59 victory.
Grand Haven improves to 7-7 overall and 2-3 in the O-K Red, while Hudsonville falls to 7-6 and 3-2.
Hudsonville, which recently handed league rival East Kentwood its first loss, seemed intent on continuing its strong recent play, as it jumped out to a 16-9 first-quarter lead on Friday.
But Groothuis and the Bucs simply caught fire in the second. He connected on three of Grand Haven’s five triples in the quarter.
“It’s been frustrating because I hit them in practice, but tonight was the first time where I also was hitting them in the game,” Groothuis said of his long-range shooting. “We talked about making the extra pass, and tonight we did that. I just got my shot.”
“When he’s doing that, it just changes everything for us offensively, because it gives us that deep threat,” said Grand Haven coach Steve Hewitt. “Ethan’s very capable of that. I’m happy for him.”
Groothuis connected on two more triples in the third quarter, as Grand Haven appeared to be running away with the victory. But he admitted the Bucs lost their composure after Hudsonville applied some full-court pressure, and the Eagles started canning 3-pointers themselves.
“(The pressure) wasn’t a surprise,” Hewitt said. “We just didn’t handle it very well.”
As a result, Hudsonville had to be feeling pretty good, as it was tied at 40 with the Bucs after three.
But the Bucs re-grouped and let Steffel do what he does best — create off the dribble.
“Sean gets where he wants with the ball,” Groothuis said. “That was key. Plus, we were able to shoot a lot of free throws in the fourth.”
Hudsonville’s press finally backfired in the fourth, as the Bucs were able to break it several times over the top for easy layups. Grand Haven also got Groothuis’ sixth 3-pointer and another long-range dagger from Ty VanWieren.
VanWieren had nine of his 11 points in the fourth.
The Bucs had a 59-52 lead with 1:25 to go, then made 6-of-10 free throws down the stretch to clinch the big win.
“It’s the biggest of the year, no question,” Hewitt said. “Just because, for one, we haven’t been playing very well recently and we’ve had a lot of close ones we just couldn’t finish. The kids did a good job re-grouping in the fourth and we didn’t give up. I’m glad we finished.”
Hudsonville’s talented 6-foot-6 senior forward Cody Stuive led all scorers with 28 points.
“This win does a lot for us because we’ve still got (O-K Red leaders) East Kentwood and Rockford coming up,” Groothuis said. “It gives us confidence going into next week.”