By Andrew Johnson

MUSKEGON – The West Michigan Lake Hawks are halfway through their season, and are still struggling to put games away at crunch time.

The Lake Hawks had an opportunity to get over their late-game problems on Saturday in an
ABA contest against the Grand Rapids Danger at Fruitport High School.

They had a five-point lead late in the contest, but costly turnovers down the stretch got in the way, and the Lake Hawks came out on the short end of a 109-102 decision.

“That’s been the story of the season,” said West Michigan head coach Ron Jenkins about his team’s late- game struggles. “We haven’t controlled the game and finished down the stretch. You can’t keep losing in the fourth quarter.

“You have to take care of the ball, and we’re not doing a good job at that.”

West Michigan held a 97-92 lead with 2:42 remaining in the game, but the advantage quickly vanished. The Lake Hawks turned the ball over on four of its next six possessions, allowing Grand Rapids to go on 17-3 run and take control of the game.

Grand Rapids improved its record to 9-3 while West Michigan fell to 7-4.

“We’re going to keep having these close games,” Jenkins said. “We’re a good team, but we’re not playing like it. We’re playing hard, but we’re just not playing like we should.”

An offensive explosion from forward Xavier Keeling and guard Marquis Brewer gave the Lake Hawks a 33-23 lead after one quarter. Keeling had 15 points in the quarter while Brewer had 12.

“I just want to come out aggressive,” Keeling said. “Sometimes the guys feed off my energy and if I don’t bring it, we might come out slow.”

Brewer, who is from Muskegon Heights, said he tries to attack from the start when his team hits the court.

“Coach expects me to set the tone, and that’s what I try to do every game,” Brewer said.

The Lake Hawk offense slowed down in the second quarter, posting only 14 points. West Michigan trailed 54-47 at halftime.

Lake Hawks veteran Josh Langford, who was making his season debut for the team after returning from playing overseas, came off the bench to score four points in the second quarter and help keep the game close.

“He’s very explosive,” Jenkins said about Langford. “He traveled 12 hours to make sure he made it tonight, and we’re excited to have him back.”

The Lake Hawks came back to life in the third quarter and grabbed a 72-69 lead at the buzzer. Starting center Lou Williams paced West Michigan with eight points in the quarter.

The Lake Hawks showed signs of pulling away at the start of the fourth quarter, going on a 13-7 run to stretch their lead to 85-76. But the Danger hung around, then pulled ahead in the last few minutes when the Lake Hawks imploded with turnovers.

“It’s very frustrating,” Brewer said. “We weren’t prepared when they pressed us, and it’s something we have to work on as a team.”

“It’s very disappointing,” Keeling added. “We work so hard to beat a good team and then gave it up late. We were up a good amount and just need to finish those games.”

Keeling led West Michigan with 28 points, Brewer finished with 21 and Williams had 13. Grand Rapids was led by Derek Brooks with 30 points while Bradley Whitby added 26.

West Michigan will face Team NetWork at 5 p.m. on Sunday at Reeths-Puffer High School.