In Keith Guy’s remarkable coaching career, he’s never suffered a loss in the district tournament.
Granted, before this season, all those victories occurred at Muskegon Heights, and he experienced a different kind of challenge taking the reigns of the Muskegon Big Reds this winter.
“It’s different,” he said. “It’s a bigger stage.”
Different stage, same result.
Muskegon’s ability to attack off the dribble and hurt Grand Haven on the offensive glass proved vital in the Class A district championship game at Mona Shores High School on Friday, helping the Big Reds pull out a hard-fought 58-50 victory.
With the victory, Muskegon improves to 17-6 overall and advances to Monday’s regional semifinal contest against Marquette at Gaylord High School. Hudsonville will face Forest Hills Central in the other regional semifinal.
On the other end, Grand Haven sees its roller coaster season come to an end at 12-11.
Like they had all season, the Bucs fought until the end, as they erased 53-44 deficit with under two minutes remaining with a flurry of quick buckets by senior forward Mac Carter.
First, Carter grabbed an offensive rebound off a free throw miss by Sean Steffel and scored to cut the Big Reds’ lead to 53-46. Grand Haven quickly applied some full-court pressure that seemed to surprise Muskegon. Isaac Newhouse forced a steal and found Carter for a layup.
Muskegon turned the ball over again, and Carter was pure on another mid-range jumper, suddenly drawing the Bucs to within 53-50.
“We’ll talk about (those few seconds) tomorrow,” Guy said. “We have to show better composure in situations like that. We got sloppy.”
“It happened so quickly, I’m not sure we understood the situation,” added Grand Haven coach Steve Hewitt. “They still needed to miss some shots and free throws, and unfortunately, they didn’t.”
Muskegon big man Deyonta Davis was in the right place at the right time at the other end, as a Bucs’ blocked shot fell into his waiting arms and he was fouled. He sank both free throws to put Muskegon back up five, 55-50.
The Big Reds picked up the intensity on the defensive end and got a stop, and Big Reds’ standout Desahun Thrower was fouled and added two more clutch free throws to essentially ice the game with 21 seconds remaining.
Thrower was huge in the fourth quarter for Muskegon, and he continuously beat his man off the dribble, drew fouls, or set up teammates for quality looks. He scored eight of his 13 points in the final quarter. He also tallied four assists.
“The key was to stop Thrower,” said Grand Haven senior forward Ty VanWieren. “He really hurt us. And we had to rebound the ball well tonight and we gave up too many offensive rebounds (seven). We also didn’t handle their pressure that well in the first half.”
Grand Haven battled foul trouble throughout the contest, including the Bucs’ leading scorer, Sean Steffel. The lightening-quick point guard still managed to pour in 22 points, coming on a 7-of-9 performance from the field.
“Sean is unbelievable,” VanWieren said. “He can go by anyone off the dribble he wants to. He just has that determination.”
Grand Haven started strong, taking a 13-10 lead after one quarter. Hewitt said the positive start was due to defense.
“We were more poised at that point and we were able to get some stops,” he said. “They turned it up a notch in the second. It took us awhile to adjust to their speed. For a couple quarters there, we lost our composure. It’s hard to do that in an emotional game like this.”
“We knew coming in that Grand Haven was going to make it a slug fest,” Guy added. “To our kids’ credit, they took it to another level.”
Hewitt felt his squad missed too many makeable shots and as a result, Muskegon outscored the Bucs 17-7 in the second to take a seven-point lead into the half. Grand Haven trimmed its deficit to 35-30 at the end of three, but the Big Reds responded by going on a 6-1 spurt in the opening two minutes of the fourth.
Davis had nine points and seven blocked shots for the Big Reds, while D’Vonte Dockery led his team with 15 points.
Carter finished with 10 points, four rebounds and three assists in his final prep game, while VanWieren added eight points and five rebounds.
VanWieren said the lasting memory he’ll take from the Bucs season is their never-say-die attitude.
“This group of guys, we just bring the intensity every time we step onto the court. We’ve done that throughout our careers. That’s how we’ve won some big games this year, like at Rockford.”
NOTE: To add insult to injury to the Bucs, the team discovered following the game that their locker room had been broken into at Mona Shores and several players’ cell phones and other valuables had been stolen. Mona Shores’ Athletic Director Ryan Portenga called the police and a report was filed.