In a season rife with highs and lows, the one moment Grand Haven’s varsity boys basketball team would most like to forget about is the first half of its loss at West Ottawa back on Jan. 29.
In that game, the Buccaneers managed just six first-half points in a 45-33 loss to the Panthers.
On Tuesday, the two rivals met again at Grand Haven, and it was a much different story. The Bucs scored six points in the opening 2 minutes, built a lead as large as eight points in the second quarter, and held on for dear life to score a 53-50 win over the visiting Panthers.
“This was a lot better than six points in the first half the last time we played them,” said a relieved Buccaneer senior forward Ty VanWieren, who finished with seven points and five rebounds. “We’re glad to be able to put that last game behind us.”
The Panthers had a chance to tie the game in the closing seconds, but Ryan Verhelst’s desperation half-court 3-pointer banged off the backboard as the buzzer sounds.
Grand Haven aided the Panthers’ late comeback by missing five consecutive free throws in the closing minute, including the front end of three one-and-one situations.
“Grand Haven plays a lot better at home, and we knew they weren’t going to shoot as poorly as they did in that first game,” said Panthers’ coach Jeff VanFossan, whose team falls to 6-9 overall and 3-6 in league play. “We didn’t defend them as well in the first half, either, especially their shooters.
“At the end, we had to get sops, and we did a good job pushing and getting to the basket.”
Leading the charge was lightning-quick guard P.J. Trammel. The junior floor general scored six of his team-high 13 points in the fourth quarter as he aggressively took the ball to the basket against a flat-footed Grand Haven defense.
His drive and layup with 1:46 remaining in the game drew the Panthers to within two points at 49-47, then West Ottawa nearly stole the inbounds pass, but instead, the ball ended up in the hands of Grand Haven’s Sean Steffel, and the senior point guard drove to the basket and scored in traffic for a 51-47 advantage.
The Panthers’ Drew Roubos was fouled with just over a minute to play, and he made his first free throw, then missed the second. Jared McNitt snatched the offensive rebound, but Grand Haven’s Kevin LaCroix tied him up, and the jump ball went to the Bucs.
Grand Haven broke the Panthers’ press to VanWieren, who scored a layup, but Trammell responded with a tough runner off the glass to make it 53-50 with 40 seconds to go.
The Bucs’ missed free throws left the door open for the West Ottawa, but the Panthers came up empty on three offensive possessions in the final minute as they had a turnover and two missed 3-pointers.
Grand Haven received valuable contributions from a multitude of sources. Steffel finished with 12 points, while sharp-shooting guard Ethan Groothuis had one of his better games of the year, knocking down several jumpers for a team-high 13.
Mac Carter was active in the paint, scoring four points in the opening few minutes and finishing with eight, while Isaak Newhouse, known more for his defense than his offense, chipped in with six points.
“When we get Mac and Ethan contributing on the offensive end, that helps us so much,” said Grand Haven coach Steve Hewitt. “Those guys are really stepping up. Ethan played really well, and Mac had one of his best games of the year.”
Hewitt was less enthusiastic about his team’s defensive effort, especially against Trammell and Ato Condelee, who scored 13 and 10 points, respectively.
“We didn’t seem to learn throughout the course of the game, and credit to them,” Hewitt said. “(Trammell) hurt us going to the basket, and (Condelee) got loose too many times. We just didn’t adjust.
“But we withstood their blows, weathered the missed shots or a basket, and were able to come back and match it. Mentally, we stayed focused, composed, and that was a big deal.”
Roubos and Condelee each had seven rebounds for the Panthers, while Trammell had four assists and McNitt added three.
LaCroix had three assists for the Bucs, while VanWieren and Carter each added two.
Grand Haven, which travels to Hudsonville on Friday, has now won three straight games and four of their last five. That winning streak has the Buccaneers feeling good about themselves.
“Those wins, especially beating Rockford, gives us a lot of confidence,” VanWieren said. “We believe we’re as good as all those teams.”
Junior Varsity: Grand Haven knocked off West Ottawa, 53-44. Noah Lein led the Bucs with 16 points, while Adam Abraham had 14 points and seven rebounds Nic Holwerda chipped in with 11, and Schaefer Thelen dished out four assists. David Rich led West Ottawa with 15 points.
Freshmen: Grand Haven topped West Ottawa, 45-34. Drew Hewitt exploded for 22 points and swiped three steals for the Bucs (11-7, 4-5 O-K Red). Jason Long added 10 points and nine rebounds, while Levi Overway chipped in with five points and 13 boards.