SPRING LAKE TWP. — The Drawbridge Classic has provided more than its fair share of drama in recent editions, with three combined overtimes and four total points separating the Grand Haven and Spring Lake boys basketball teams in their last two meetings.
In the 2018 edition of the rivalry, it was the opening half of play that would ultimately define the game, as Grand Haven used stifling defense and low-post production to jump out to a 13-4 lead in the first quarter and a 37-18 halftime lead.
Spring Lake would mount a comeback in the second half, cutting the lead to single digits late in the fourth quarter, but Grand Haven would ice the game from the free throw line for a 53-47 road win.
“It wasn’t hard to get pumped up for this game,” said Grand Haven senior point guard Casey Constant. “This is always a big game with a lot of emotion built into it. It’s a lot of fun to play in front of such a huge crowd with both student sections getting into it and the community really coming out to support both schools.
“I thought we played really well in the first half, but we kind of slowed up in the second half. It feels really good to get this win, and we all really wanted this one, especially after losing at home last year.
“We’ve been waiting all year for this one.”
Constant led all scorers with 19 points, including six free throws in the fourth quarter, to lead the Bucs, while Jon Elias added seven, Mason Mahacek added six and Drew Sinke added five.
Grand Haven’s perimeter defense helped create some easy offense early in the game for the Bucs, as Constant, Mahacek and Bryce Taylor each converted Spring Lake turnovers into an easy layup at the other end of the court.
“You can’t control if your shot goes in or not, but you can control the effort you give on defense,” said Constant. “I always pride myself in playing good defense and being aggressive in the passing lanes. I think our defense in that first quarter really set the tone for the game.
“We really wanted to pressure their guards, because we knew they had some guards that can really go off if you let them get in a rhythm from outside. Cayden Ball is a good player for them, so we made sure that we got a hand up on him every time he went up to shoot. We just wanted to make sure we didn’t allow them easy looks.”
For Spring Lake head coach Bill Core, the early turnover numbers weren’t staggering, but the effect of each mistake seemed to cost his squad points.
“We only had seven turnovers at halftime, but it felt like 15 because they were turning every turnover into a score the other way,” he said after the game. “They only had five offensive rebounds in that first half, but it felt like a lot more because every one was a putback for a bucket.
“It just seemed like they magnified our mistakes by capitalizing on them.”
Grand Haven head coach Greg Immink credits his team’s emotional response early in the game as a big reason why they came out on top.
“I really think it was our energy early in the game that did it for us,” he said. “To come out in a big rivalry game on the road and really play with passion and energy, especially on defense, was huge. That helped us win those 50-50 plays for possession, and we had a lot of guys contributing.
“Our defense has slowly improved with each game that we’ve played this year, and I think tonight was another step in the right direction.”
Immink also credited some of his senior leaders for their composure during critical stretches of Friday night’s game.
“Casey is a tough cover for anybody,” he said. “He does a lot of things for us on both sides of the court. His ability to get to the paint and penetrate the defense from his point guard position really stresses out the defense and helps get our perimeter shooters and post players better looks.
“Jon (Elias) is a player that has improved a ton from last year, and he’s really put in the work this offseason to be a major factor for us as a senior. I think he had three or four offensive rebounds in that first quarter, and he played great low-post defense all game.”
The second half tide turned swiftly in Spring Lake’s favor, thanks to some inspired play by a reserve group for the Lakers. A stout defensive effort held Grand Haven to just four made field goals in the second half, while the Lakers would outscore the Bucs 28-16 in the final two quarters to draw within two possessions late in the contest.
“We haven’t seen a ton of zone this year, so I think we need to do a little better job against that in the future,” said Constant. “We need to a better job of penetrating the middle of the zone and knocking down our three-pointers from the corners.”
“Spring Lake played with a lot of passion in the second half, and I think we settled too often,” added Immink. “We have guys that can knock it down from outside, but sometimes we rely on that too much. We knocked those shots down early in the game, but they weren’t falling in the second half. When that happens, we have to make sure we don’t force the issue and find a way to get better looks.
“Our guys were hungry tonight, though. I’m proud of the way they competed tonight on a big stage, and I think this will give a lot of confidence as we get ready for another tough road test at Muskegon next week.”
Lucas Lyyski scored 11 points to lead the Lakers, while Kyle Wiersma added 10, Grant Kieft had nine and Sam Negen chipped in with seven.
“I couldn’t be prouder of how our kids played in that second half,” said Core. “A lot of young teams would have folded, down 19 points in a big rivalry game like this, but they kept battling. I found out a lot about what’s on the inside of our team tonight.
“It was really our reserve players that helped us make that run in the third quarter. We had five non-starters that got us going and that carried over to the fourth quarter. We don’t have any superstars, but we have a lot of guys that can do a lot of different things.
“We just have to make sure we do a better job of taking care of the ball and knocking down some of those shots early on in a game, so we don’t fall behind like that against a bigger team.”
For Lyyski, it was his first taste of the rivalry, and one he won’t soon forget.
“It was a great atmosphere tonight, and I feel like both teams really fed off of that,” he said. “As soon as the crowd starting cheering, we started to get back into it. The crowd really just gets you going. It is crazy playing in front of that many people, but it was a lot of fun.
“After being down almost 20 it felt pretty good to be back within 10. It felt like we could get back in it. It was really close and then the crowd pushed us more to keep fighting.”
As for the matchup on the court, Lyyski felt that Grand Haven performed a little more effectively in every department in the first half.
“They outsized us, they were quicker than us, it just wasn’t a good matchup,” he admitted. “They were really good from the three-point line, and they created a lot of turnovers. Once we calmed down in the second half, we played pretty well, but we dug ourselves too big of a hole early in the game.
“For me, this is a tough loss. I really wanted to win this game, we won when I was on the junior varsity team last year, so it will push me to get better in the future.”
Lyyski’s coach was proud of the bounce-back game from his talented junior center.
“Lucas played well tonight,” Core said. “He struggled a little bit in the last two games, and we challenged him to be a more physical presence, and I thought he did that tonight. He had some blocks, some rebounds and knocked down some shots, too.
“We aren’t into moral losses, but I’m really proud of these guys. Each and every one of them played hard in that second half to get back into the game, and I think we learned a lot about ourselves. This is a pretty good sign for us, and I think we have a lot of positives we can grow on.”
Grand Haven (2-1) will travel to Muskegon (0-1) on Tuesday for a possible Class A district preview with Big Reds, who are coming off a 65-47 loss to Rockford on Friday.
Spring Lake (2-2) will take on Petoskey (3-1) in the first round of the Lakeshore Cup tournament at Grand Haven High School on Dec. 28 at 6 p.m.
Junior varsity: Grand Haven scored a 45-41 overtime win over Spring Lake.
Freshmen: Grand Haven defeated Spring Lake, 49-44. Porter Saunders led Spring Lake with 11 points, four steals and three rebounds, while Travis Throop and Ian Hill both chipped in seven points.