Muskegon Heights takes its revenge, beats Norse in Class C districts 60-56

By Nate Thompson

RAVENNA – The game had all the intensity of a Friday night district championship contest, just like last season.LSJ Logo incert

And it wasn’t decided until Muskegon Heights made a few more bigger plays down the stretch than North Muskegon, the team that eliminated the Tigers in the district finals last year.

Sweet revenge, indeed.

Muskegon Heights senior DeAndre Wilson drained a huge 3-pointer with a hand in his face with 1:30 remaining, then teammate Anthony Gordon converted a steal into a game-icing layup with 40 seconds left, lifting the Tigers to a thrilling 60-56 victory over the Norse in the Class C district quarterfinals at Ravenna High School.

E'onte Tornes gets free on the 2-on-1 for Muskegon Heights in the last seconds of the game. Photo/Jason Goorman

E’onte Tornes gets free on the 2-on-1 for Muskegon Heights in the last seconds of the game. Photo/Jason Goorman

The victory sends Muskegon Heights (17-4) to the semifinals Wednesday against Western Michigan Christian. North Muskegon ended its season with a 14-7 record.

Muskegon Heights coach Del Stewart said the tense opening-night battle helped his team grow up a bit.

“I tell you what, this type of game is a form of weight loss because I didn’t sit down the entire game,” Stewart said with a smile. “In the end, we were fortunate to get some key plays from our small guards. We decided to go with one big and four smalls, and our speed (in that lineup) helped trigger some turnovers.”

Muskegon Heights controlled the opening half, taking a 32-23 lead in the locker room, but the Norsemen came out recharged in the third quarter and stormed back, outscoring the Tigers 17-8.

Junior wing Riley Fairfield scored eight of his game-high 25 points in the third, while Dalton Fuller and Erick Bleakley each added 3-pointers to tie the contest at 40-40 entering the fourth quarter.

North Muskegon Coach Chuck Rypstra encouraged his squad not to push its zone defense too far out against the speedy Tigers, and just play sound basketball in the paint. Being less aggressive, it seemed, worked well.

“(Muskegon Heights) started getting a little frustrated and threw the ball away and took some bad shots,” Rypstra said.

It was a different story offensively for the Norse, who went to attack mode.

Eric Bleakley is defended by Muskegon Heights guard No. 1 D'Adie Wilson. Photo/Jason Goorman

No. 24 Eric Bleakley is defended by Muskegon Heights guard No. 1 D’Adie Wilson. Photo/Jason Goorman

“They came out with an entirely new level of intensity,” Stewart said. “Chuck seemed to make it an initiative to attack the basket. We were moving in place, but we weren’t prepared to go chest-to-chest with them.

“Because we were out of position, they got their kids to the line, they got their three-point shooters going, they got their crowd going and all of a sudden it was a ball game.”

North Muskegon carried the momentum through most of the fourth quarter, as well. The Norse had a 50-47 lead following a big corner three-pointer from Fuller with 2:50 left, but the Tigers answered with a game-tying triple by E’onte Tornes 20 seconds later.

Down the stretch, Rypstra said North Muskegon “just needed a couple more plays.” Instead, the Norse shot themselves in the foot with missed free throws. They missed a total of seven in the fourth and finished the game 12-for-24.

Wilson’s big triple from the wing with 1: 30 left gave the Tigers a 55-52 lead. Gordon added his layup with 40 seconds left, then the Tigers drained their free throws to seal the deal.

Stewart said Wilson took command of the situation when it was necessary.

“He wasn’t having a great night defensively,” Stewart said about Wilson. “With the intensity of the game, he just seemed out of it a little bit. But he came up to me with 2:23 to go, I remember looking at the clock. He grabbed me and said, ‘Coach, I’m ready. Put me in.’

“He’s never done anything like that and at that point, nobody else was hitting, so I figured I might as well. Maybe it was him just being a senior, but he took a 23-footer and it hit the bottom of the net.

“That rejuvenated us. We went from a worrying position to a boost of confidence.”

The Tigers thrived with balanced scoring. DeCarri Brown led the way with 12 points while center Keishan Watson and guard Antwan Jones each added 10.

Fairfield wrapped up his stellar junior season with a double-double of 25 points and 12 rebounds. Point guard Bleakley added 12 points and four assists.

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