By Nate Thompson
GRAND RAPIDS – Nobody knows how far it will carry them in the state basketball tournament, but the Muskegon Big Reds demonstrated again on Wednesday that their best offense is sometimes their defense.
Muskegon’s lockdown defense set the tone for its 66-32 blowout victory over Grand Rapids Union in the Class A district semifinals at Kenowa Hills High School.
Muskegon limited the Red Hawks to just two points in the second quarter, essentially validating its ticket to Friday’s championship game.
The Big Reds will meet Grand Haven for the district title at 7 p.m. at Kenowa Hills.
“At this time of year, I always believe your defense has to carry you,” said Muskegon coach Keith Guy, whose squad improved to 18-3 overall. “We weren’t as smooth as I’d like to be offensively, but I had a feeling it would be that way.
“Our defense has to sustain us, but you look at us and we still shot 46 percent, which is not too bad.”
The Big Reds’ offensive sets weren’t always pleasing to the eye against Union’s trapping zone defense, but Muskegon boosted its shooting percentage with second-chance buckets and fast break scoring.
Two Big Reds thrived in those areas.
Junior 6-5 forward Anthony Bethea cleaned up in the paint and recorded a double-double with 12 points, 13 rebounds and five blocked shots.
In transition, Muskegon’s best finisher was junior Jermane Golidy, who led all scorers with 15 points and added eight rebounds and two steals.
The Big Reds had just a 10-5 lead after one quarter, but the lopsided second quarter gave them a 27-7 advantage at the half.
Muskegon mixed in a trapping half-court press with its standard man-to-man defense to frazzle the Red Hawks, who didn’t help themselves by missing several layups and throwing away careless passes.
Union outscored the Big Reds 15-13 in the third quarter, but Muskegon still had a 40-22 lead at the buzzer.
An epitome of Bethea’s game came at the 4:30 mark of the third quarter. He scored on a power layup on the offensive end, altered a shot defensively, then hustled down the court and scored on a putback in a tremendous 20-second stretch.
“I was really proud of Anthony tonight,” Guy said. “He really brought it. He was a catalyst.”
Golidy piled it on in the fourth for the Big Reds, who led by as many as 35 points at one point.
Golid opened the quarter with an old-fashioned three-point play, then later secured a loose ball after missing a free throw and completed another three-point play. He added aa smooth jumper from the wing for a “new school” triple later in the quarter.
Muskegon senior guard Jacarius Scott also had a strong game with 10 points, five rebounds and two steals.
For Union (12-10 overall), Ellontae Mayfield and Sergio Diaz each scored seven points.
“At this time of the year, you’re just thankful you’re still playing,” Guy said. “We need to be more smooth offensively, but we had a long break leading into this game tonight. Our kids will be ready Friday.”