By Steve Gunn

NORTH MUSKEGON – Muskegon Heights Coach Del Stewart said it wasn’t really a factor, but you can bet some of his players had Monday’s game at North Muskegon circled on their calendars.Midnight sun featured imageLSJ Logo incert

That’s because the Tigers’ 2014-15 season ended in disappointment last March with an upset loss to the Norsemen in a Class C district championship game.

For a team that had advanced to the state semifinals the year before, it was a bitter pill to swallow.

Deondre Wilson goes up two points against North Muskegons No. 20 Dalton Fuller and No. 15 Vernonell Smith. Photo/Joe Lane

Deondre Wilson goes up two points against North Muskegon’s No. 20 Dalton Fuller and No. 15 Vernonell Smith. Photo/Joe Lane

But the Tigers made sure the Norse understood that this is a new season on Monday, walking out of the North Muskegon gym with a convincing 51-33 victory.

Muskegon Heights improved to 7-1 on the season. North Muskegon fell to 5-3.

The two teams will meet again this season, in the opening game of the district tournament.

“It was a big game,” Stewart said. “We are district opponents, our draw is North Muskegon, first game on the first day, so it was important for us to play well.”

When asked if revenge was a goal, Stewart played it down.

“For the most part, the team that played last year was a different team, and (North Muskegon) is a different team than they were,” he said.

The Tigers were impressive on both ends of the court.

They showed they have no need to panic when they get off to a cold start offensively. Muskegon Heights only led 11-8 after the first quarter, after missing 11 of 15 shots in the first eight minutes.

But then their big guns got hot, showing off an inside-outside game that will frustrate a lot of opponents before the season ends.

Sophomore post player Kleshon Watson had six points in the second quarter while senior Anthony Gordon added five, allowing the Heights to pull ahead 26-15 at halftime.

No. 20 Dalton Fuller goes up for the shot against Muskegon Heights guard No. 4 Anthony Jones. Photo/Joe Lane

No. 20 Dalton Fuller goes up for the shot against Muskegon Heights guard No. 4 Anthony Jones. Photo/Joe Lane

Gordon hit a pair of triples and a two-pointer in the third quarter, while Watson added four points, pushing the Tigers to a 39-20 edge at the third buzzer.

North Muskegon made a move in the fourth quarter, outscoring Muskegon Heights 11-1 over the first 3 ½ minutes, to cut its deficit to 40-32.

Freshman TJ McKenzie started the Norse uprising with a 3-pointer and a free throw, Joe Osborn added a triple, then Vernonell Smith added a dunk and a 3-pointer.

But Muskegon Heights’ senior Deondre Wilson answered the challenge, scoring nine points down the stretch to help the Tigers seal the victory.

“He’s one of our senior captains and he does a little bit of everything for us,” Stewart said about Wilson. “I was pleased to see him step up at a moment when some of the younger kids were making some not-so-good decisions near the end of the game.”

The Tigers were also tough on defense, using a stifling zone defense and a little full-court pressure to throw North Muskegon out of its game.

The Norse made only 11 of 33 shots from the floor and 4 of 13 free throws. They were also hurt by 13 turnovers.

The Tigers were 20 of 53 from the floor. They were outrebounded 31-25, but grabbed a lot of offensive boards for second and third chances.

The Norse were not able to use all their weapons in the game.

Senior Erick Bleakley, who averages around 14 points per game, had back spasms in warmups and was limited to a few minutes on the court. He finished with one free throw.

“They surprised me,” said North Muskegon Coach Chuck Rypstra said about the Heights defense. “They didn’t really press. They got in that zone and we hadn’t worked on that zone. It was a new wrinkle – and a credit to Dale. It was not a traditional 2-3 or 1-3-1 zone.

“Our shooting was not good. If you would have told me that we would hold them to 51 points, I would have thought we’d be right there. Then look what they did to us – they put a 33 spot on us. It’s a credit to them.”

Gordon finished with a game-high 20 points, including four triples, for Muskegon Heights. Watson totaled 13 points and nine rebounds, Wilson finished with nine points and Antoine Jones had six rebounds, two blocks and two steals.

Riley Fairfield led North Muskegon with 10 points and five rebounds. Smith had six rebounds and four steals while Dalton Fuller grabbed seven boards.