A back-and-forth game against visiting Sparta came down to crunch time as the Lakers hoped to pick up their first win in five tries. A one-point Spring Lake lead at the beginning of the final period crumbled to a 58-54 loss as their offense faltered and the Spartans’ accelerated.
A red-hot shooting night for Sparta didn’t help the Lakers’ case, as they buried 12 shots from distance and hit 16 free throws over the course of the game. Meanwhile, Spring Lake converted on just half of their free-throw attempts, adding up to an uphill battle at the end of the day.
“We always say, if a team hits more than seven 3-pointers, you may be in trouble,” said Spring Lake head coach Bill Core. “For them to hit 12 and be so good from the free-throw line makes for a tough game.
“We couldn’t buy a basket when we needed it and they just made more plays down the stretch than we did. It is that inconsistency on offense that has been our nemesis so far this season, and it got us again tonight.”
Grant Kieft led Spring Lake in scoring after getting his first start of the season, scoring with 16 points on three 3-pointers and a perfect 3-for-3 performance at the free throw line.
“Grant is a great shooter, that is part of the reason we slid him into the starting lineup was to try and jumpstart the offense,” Core said. “He’s a good shooter and the kids know to look for him when we gets hot, and he does a good job of getting himself open to get those shots.”
“I was feeling it in the first half,” Kieft said. “I got the start today, which I am so thankful for. The guys play really unselfish basketball, I know I can hit them, so I take them.”
Cayden Ball followed with 11 points, also hitting three 3-pointers, ahead of Sam Sheridan with nine points all off 3-pointers, while Noah Verlinde and Sam Negen each added eight points and Kyle Wiersma rounded out the team with two.
In a similarly-sized matchup down low, the Lakers won the rebounding battle 27-17 and completely shut down the Spartans from midrange, as they converted just three two-point baskets.
“You shouldn’t win a game if you only hit three two-point baskets,” Core said. “But, if you hit 16 free throws and 12 3-pointers, that is one way to do it. We won the rebounding battle, but they just made too many shots.”
Most of Sparta’s scoring came courtesy of guard Connor West, who lit up the gym for 25 points including six made free throws in the fourth quarter.
“We knew they had some guards who could get hot, so I am disappointed we let one get so hot,” Core said. “I feel we defend pretty well, we have some really good on-ball defenders, but to let one guy score almost half their points is disappointing.”
“Big props to No. 22. He was hitting his shots,” Kieft said. “He was behind the line and just knocking them down all day.”
Each quarter played out in runs, as Spring Lake would pull away for a slight lead and Sparta would work it back by the time the buzzer sounded. The Lakers led 9-7 after a back-and-forth opening quarter, before jumping out to a 15-7 lead to start the second, thanks to back-to-back 3-pointers by Kieft. Scoring slowed after that, allowing Sparta to take the lead on a floater at the buzzer, 25-24.
The third played out the same, this time featuring a Spring Lake buzzer-beater. Sparta would snag the lead on the second-to-last possession with a 3-pointer, answered by a half-court heave by Sheridan, which found its way home for a 39-38 Laker leading heading into the fourth.
Suddenly in the fourth, the basket closed up for Spring Lake and Sparta hit the accelerator. The Lakers managed to carve out a three-point lead heading into the final minutes of play but saw it quickly reversed when the Spartans hit back-to-back 3-pointers. The deficit forced them to play the foul game down the stretch, where Sparta’s shooting was hot enough to seal the game.
“We wanted this one really bad,” Kieft said. “We had it in the first half and even in the second, it was just that lid on the basket late that has been there all year.”
“We just couldn’t get anything to fall,” Core said. “We had some good looks.”
The loss drops the Lakers to 2-5 overall with all five losses coming in a row. As they continue to wrestle with personnel and scoring consistency, the rest of a tough O-K Blue slate looms.
“We have to get some confidence back, find our swagger,” Core said.
“Now, it’s like the Big Ten,” Kieft said. “Every game is a battle. This start is nothing to be ashamed of. We will find it.”
Spring Lake will return to action Tuesday as they host Allendale.