This weekend’s Lakeshore Cup festivities showcased the Lakers’ issues on offense as they finished 0-2 with losses to Petoskey on Friday (57-45) and Traverse City West on Saturday (60-53).
Both games saw flashes of Spring Lake’s potential but lacked sustained success. In Friday’s loss, a lackluster first half left them behind by nearly 20 points at halftime for the third game in a row, before they nearly doubled their point total with a 22-point fourth quarter.
Saturday’s loss to Traverse City West featured a slow start once again, but productive second and third quarters put them within three heading into the fourth. There, the offense sputtered, putting up just four points in the crucial final period.
“Consistency on offense has been our Achilles’ heel,” said Spring Lake head coach Bill Core. “Friday night, we had 23 points going into the fourth quarter and scored 22 in that quarter. Saturday, we went 10, 22, 14, and four per quarter. We just have no consistency offensively right now.
“I think it is just growing pains of a young team. That is the biggest thing we have to shore up for 2019 and the O-K Blue Conference season. We have had some great quarters, but haven’t put together 32 minutes through this four-game stretch.”
The problem isn’t talent. Spring Lake’s roster features plenty of stellar basketball players, maybe even more than necessary.
“Part of it is finding the right mixture,” Core said. “They are making it hard because they are all so competitive and there is a lot of equal talent.
“But, sometimes I feel like I need a crystal ball to know who is going to play well on any given night.
“I never have to question their heart and effort, but we have to get more consistent individually and as a team. They love to play; they want to get better. Frequently, practice ends and there are five or six guys that keep shooting for another 40 minutes, to the point that I have to tell them to finish up so we can go home. They are gym rats, they love the game.”
Saturday’s game was a stark example of the level the Lakers could achieve. After a cold start to the game, they got the boost they needed from the bench, as Grant Kieft came in and knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers. Suddenly, Spring Lake couldn’t miss.
“Momentum and confidence are big things for this group,” Core said. “I wrote on the whiteboard during shootaround Saturday, ‘relax and have fun,’ right next to ‘execute and be consistent.’
“We have been playing tight, that’s what happens when you are playing from behind all the time. It takes so much effort to fight back from these big deficits. When Grant came off the bench Saturday and hit those shots, you could see everyone kind of loosen up, and everyone else started hitting.”
Spring Lake has learned quite a bit about their team over the first portion of the season, one that began with a wealth of questions. The quick education is thanks to a tough opening slate of games, as they took on big-time opponents like Rockford and Grand Haven before two tough tests at the Lakeshore Cup.
The difficult opening schedule was meant to test the new team, but four straight losses now threaten to shake the confidence of a talented squad still finding its way.
“We are 2-4, we were hoping to be 3-3,” Core said. “So, we missed it by one. We’re hoping this will pay off in the conference schedule.
“My biggest concern is letting the tough schedule backfire. My job now is to make sure that mentally and emotionally this four-game losing streak doesn’t drain us for the future. We need to use it to learn and to fuel development not let it get us thinking we’re no good.
“A lot of it is just growing pains with so much turnover, especially experience wise. This was a tough four-game stretch, but there isn’t any way to gain experience without playing. I think we will be better for the O-K Blue schedule from it.”
The conference slate kicks off Friday against Sparta at home. Hopefully, the Lakers find the consistency they are after in 2019.