By Mark Lewis
Local Sports Journal

MUSKEGON – Coming off a 34-point drubbing last Tuesday at the hands of Greenville, Reeths-Puffer boys basketball fans knew wins could be at a premium this season.

And yet, the host Rockets found a way Tuesday night versus Mason County Central, as Reeths-Puffer sophomore forward DeAndre Oakes-Owens scored the final six points of the game – his final basket coming off a steal as the Spartans were attempting the go-ahead basket –  in his squad’s 52-49 victory.

“He’s probably the best player in our entire program,” said Reeths-Puffer head coach David Ingles about the  sophomore wunderkind Oakes-Owens, who finished with a game-high 16 points. “The reason we have all three sophomores (Oakes-Owens, and guards Jordan and Jalen Cooley) up and out on the floor at the same time is that they give us some athleticism out there. Maybe not Muskegon High School  athleticism, but Reeths-Puffer athleticism.”

Reeths-Puffer quickness would prove enough against Mason County, as the Rockets forced the already turnover-prone Spartans into three giveaways in the final two minutes.

It would be a mistake to think the Rockets’ win was just because of the sophomore trio, as senior center Tristan Wright fought hard all night for boards, finishing with a game-high six rebounds, and senior forward Joey Olsen was impressive from the perimeter, finishing with 10 points on the night.

“Tristen had some big rebounds there late in the game,” said Ingles.

For the now 2-1 Spartans, whom many think could be one of the strongest teams in the West Michigan Conference, the loss was a result of poor shooting and turnovers.

“I think our guys had a lack of focus tonight,” said Mason County head coach Jeff Tuka. “I don’t want to take anything away from Reeths-Puffer, because I thought they played with great intensity. But we had 17 turnovers according to our stats, and we average 12. The problem was our turnovers came at an inopportune time. We’d get a lead in the fourth quarter and we’d have to take care of the ball and instead, we gave it away.”

Up 12-11 after one, Reeths-Puffer would look good for periods in the second before the momentum shifted back toward MCC, who scored seven of the final nine points of the half to lead 22-21 at the break.

The Rockets ran out to the 27-22 lead early in the third, but MCC battled back to trail by just one, 39-38 after three.

During the middle two quarters, MCC committed 11 turnovers and went 9-for-22 from the field.

“(Reeths-Puffer) played some great perimeter defense,” said Tuka. “They contested shots well; we didn’t get very many open looks tonight.”

Things would get even worse for the Spartans, opening the fourth two turnovers and going down by five a minute-and-a-half into the frame.

That’s when MCC senior captain Kody Ambrose put his team on his back, scoring six of his team-high 14 points – honors he shared with senior Spartan guard Josh Ritzema  –  as part of a 9-2 run that put the Spartans on top 49-48 with 1:01 left.

The win looked in the back for MCC.

Then Oakes-Owens came alive and the rest was history.

While the Rockets were jubilant, the Spartans were left with only questions.

“I just wasn’t happy with our effort tonight,” lamented Tuka. “But it’s not like we can get down  on ourselves just because of this one game. We have a big conference game Thursday against Whitehall. This was a tough loss to a Class A school, but now we need to regroup and get ready to play.”

Ingles said his team will enjoy this one for a little a while and then get back to work, now sporting what has proven to be a winning formula.

“We knew coming in thinking wins would be few and far between,” said Ingles, “starting three sophomores and not a lot of experience. But I’ll tell you what, you get four turnovers on your opponent’s last four possessions, that’s how you win games. Now, doing that with three sophomores on the floor, that’s great for us down the road.”

Reeths-Puffer’s Jalen Cooley poured in 10 points to join Oakes-Owens and Olsen on the Rockets’ list of double-digit scorers. Junior guard DeAngelo Williams dished out five assists and collected five boards in the win.

The Spartans’ Coltyn Tyndall finished with six points and four assists, and Johnny Shafer pulled down five rebounds in the non-conference loss.