By Jacob Arvidson

HOLLAND – It’s been a tough week in conference play for the Grand Haven boy’s basketball team.

Last week the Bucs went into their league opener with a head of steam, sporting a 7-1 overall record and a 1-0 league mark, but fell to East Kentwood by nine points.

The situation didn’t improve on Tuesday, when Grand Haven traveled to Holland to play a talented West Ottawa squad in O-K Red Conference action, and came out on the short end of a 68-45 decision.

The Bucs dropped to 7-3 overall and 1-2 in the league.

“We had a rough last week here,” said Grand Haven head coach Greg Immink. “All teams go through that at certain points of the season. Rarely does a team get through the season without a loss or without some games where they didn’t play as well as they thought they could.

“We’re at that point right now. It’ll make us better.”

It looked like the Panthers were going to run all over the Bucs early. Grand Haven’s first three possessions ended in blocked shots and points on the other end, leading to an 8-0 deficit for Grand Haven.

But the Bucs responded with strong defense, forcing six turnovers in the first quarter and only trailed 14-9 at the first buzzer.

But the Panthers took control in the second quarter, opening with an 11-0 run and taking a 34-19 lead by halftime.

West Ottawa’s 3-2 zone defense stifled any semblance of an attack for the Bucs, who couldn’t get the ball down low to big man Ross Koella, and were forced to depend on the 3-pointer, which refused to go down.

“We knew it was coming and we prepared for it,” Immink said about the Panther defense. “They play it well, they’re good at it.

“There were a couple of things that were a little disappointing from our end. Some of the self-inflicted turnovers, passing the ball to guys that are already covered, senseless passes, and a couple of times there are guys open under the hoop and we made a good pass, but it just fell through our hands.”

Grand Haven came out of the halftime break in a full-court press defense.

The pressure flustered the Panthers slightly, and the Bucs knocked the ball loose several times, but West Ottawa always found a way to keep possession. The Bucs failed to force a turnover in the third and fell further behind, 51-31.

The Bucs continued to throw full-court pressure at the Panthers in the fourth quarter and began to chip away at the large deficit. Koella came to life, beginning the quarter with back-to-back three-point plays.

A 3-pointer from Clay Landsman cut Grand Haven’s deficit to 13 points, 53-40, with six minutes left to play.

But West Ottawa weathered the storm and quickly reestablished its lead, finishing the game with five players scoring nine or more points.

Jake VanTubbergen led the Panthers with 14 points. Hunter Bedford added 12.

“We have to play a good game on Friday because they’ll be well coached and very disciplined,” Immink said. “Hopefully we can bounce back on Friday.”