By Dave Tomczak
Local Sports Journal
A big second half from its big man helped Whitehall escape host North Muskegon with a 49-47 West Michigan Conference victory Friday.
Vikings center Matt Russell scored 11 of his 15 points in the second half and a Reese McCamant 3-pointer at the buzzer caught the back of the rim to close out an exciting game.
The teams combined for 13 first-quarter points, with the Norse holding a 7-6 lead.
“We were getting good shots, but they weren’t dropping,” Vikings coach Nate Aardema said. “We just weren’t patient enough against their zone.”
The teams woke up in the second quarter, however, as the Norse hit three 3-pointers and Whitehall made 7-of-7 from the free-throw line to take a 22-21 lead at the half.
North Muskegon would pull even at 22-all with a Sam Powell free throw early in the third only to see the Vikings’ Isaac Love answer with a 3-pointer.
But on the ensuing trip down court, Love would be whistled for his fourth foul and head to the bench.
That’s when Russell, a 6-5 juinor, took over.
On back-to-back trips, Vikings guard Dylan Medendorp found Russell down low for baskets.
“Isaac’s our leader and once he picked up his fourth (foul) I needed to step it up and be physical,” Russell said. “We work hard on our game plan for North Muskegon and getting the ball onto the post.”
With a 38-35 lead after three quarters, Whitehall (3-5, 3-3) held the lead but couldn’t shake a determined Norse squad.
Love would hit two free throws to put the Vikings up 47-44 with less than a minute left only to see McCamant tie the game from long range with 37 seconds left.
But on the ensuing possession, Whitehall’s Matt Rohen was fouled and made 1-of-2 from the line.
After a Norse miss, Russell grabbed one of his 11 rebounds and went to the charity stripe, where he hit one and gave the Norse a final opportunity.
After a timeout, Powell’s drive to the hoop was blocked, forcing him to kick the ball out to McCamant, whose long game-winning attempt hit the back of the rim.
“That’s the play we wanted at the end,” Norse coach Jeff Cooke said. “We wanted Powell at the end and of he didn’t have it, kick it out.”
North Muskegon finished the game with a 7-4 advantage from 3-point range, but only hit 8-of-14 from the foul line while the Vikings were 13-of 17.
“If we make a couple more of those we don’t need that shot at the end.” Cooke said.
Love finished with 10 points for Whitehall and Frank Owens scored 12.
Powell led NM (2-7, 1-5) with 15 points, Zach Rummery added 13, McCamant had nine points and six rebounds and Ryan Gannon finished with six rebounds.