By Nate Thompson
In a contest pitting the top two teams in the league, the Big Reds established themselves early in enemy territory at Grand Rapids Union, slumped in the second quarter, but re-established their dominance in the second half for an impressive 67-39 victory.
The win keeps Muskegon undefeated this season at 9-0, while improving their league record to 4-0. The Red Hawks fell to 6-2 and 4-1 in conference action.
“We wanted to come out and play as hard as we can,” said Muskegon senior forward Markell Jackson, who had a huge night with 18 points, 14 points and three blocks. “We wanted to let them know that we’re (the defending) O-K Black champs and we’re still the team (to beat).”
Jackson said the Big Reds were “so hyped up” entering the game, and it spilled over to their first-quarter performance, which was arguably their best stretch of basketball of the season.
Muskegon outscored Union 18-2 in a quarter that featured two outstanding blocked shots on Red Hawks’ transition layup attempts – one apiece from Jackson and fellow senior Jermaine Golidy.
“Those blocks really got us energized,” said Jackson, who transferred to Muskegon his junior year from Kalamazoo Loy Norrix. “Jermaine is always saying we need to keep the momentum going and once we get rolling, there’s no stopping us.”
But in the second quarter, Muskegon stopped itself.
Head coach Keith Guy said his squad didn’t come out with the same defensive intensity and its red-hot shooting cooled dramatically.
Keyed by a pair of corner 3-pointers from senior Marquel Ross, Union turned in a 12-2 run to crawl back into the game at 20-14 with three minutes left in the half.
But Ross lost his cool after a foul call late in the quarter, resulting in a technical foul and four free throws for Muskegon’s Amari Saucier. The junior guard calmly sank all four, giving the Big Reds a 25-14 cushion entering the half.
Muskegon’s relentlessness attacks on the offensive glass ,and its offensive balance seemed to wear down the Red Hawks in the third quarter.
Jackson’s straight away 3-pointer got the Big Reds rolling in the second half. Senior forward Jacorey Sullivan converted a three-point play with 2:38 left in the third, then sank another bucket with another strong finish at the hoop 30 seconds later, giving Muskegon a safe 49-24 advantage.
Union never got closer than 19 points in the fourth quarter.
Sullivan finished with 11 points and eight rebounds – one of four Big Reds with nine or more points. Junior Willie Shanks had a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds, while Sam Cornett contributed nine points and 10 rebounds.
Guy said the Big Reds’ offensive balance was critical, since they were playing their third straight game without starting center Anthony Bethea, who is recovering from a concussion but is expected to return to the lineup soon.
Senior guard Quantes Jackson led Union with 11 points.