By Nate Thompson

GRAND HAVEN – Muskegon Big Reds Coach Keith Guy leaned against a wall near the locker rooms at Grand Haven High School and could only shake his head.

He glanced at a tablet that displayed the type of stats he had never experienced before as a head coach at Muskegon High, or for that matter, his previous stop at Muskegon Heights.

Muskegon’s Markell Jackson tries to grab a rebound over Grand Rapids Christian’s James Beck II. Photo/Tim Reilly

Nine-for-50 shooting from the field. Twenty turnovers. Only 4-of-7 from the free throw line. Allowing an opposing player to grab 21 rebounds.

And then there was the stat that mattered the most – a stunning 64-26 loss to Grand Rapids Christian on Monday in a highly-anticipated showdown between undefeated teams in the Class A regional semifinals.

GR Christian improved to 24-0 and advanced to Wednesday’s regional championship game against Holland West Ottawa.  The Panthers also won in a lopsided affair on Monday, trouncing Forest Hills Northern, 60-25.

The Big Reds wrapped up a great season with a 24-1 record.

“We’ve never shot this poorly,” Guy said. “We had open looks, but we missed layups. Some of that was their defense as well, but we just didn’t do it tonight.”

Early foul trouble for Big Red center Anthony Bethea, Jr. allowed the Eagles and 6-foot-8 senior center Xavier Tillman to flourish.

The Michigan State University-bound Tillman had 17 points, 21 rebounds and four blocks, and when he wasn’t contesting shots in the paint, he was limiting the Big Reds to one-and-dones with defensive rebounds.

“We challenged (Tillman) tonight,” said Grand Rapids Christian head coach Mark Warners. “We told him ‘we need you to defend and rebound.’ We needed to limit Muskegon from getting fast break and second-chance points and if we did that, we’re pretty good defensively in the half court. We did a great job of that.”

Sam Cornett, Jr. goes up for the shot against Eagle forward James Beck II. Photo/Tim Reilly

The Eagles jumped out to a 20-6 first-quarter lead and the Big Reds seem rattled by the slow start.

“We just didn’t make shots,” Guy said. “Even layups. The jump shots that we normally make weren’t falling. When our shots started to rim in and out, our energy level seemed to go with it. It was a snowball effect.”

Bethea, who tried to be physical in the paint with the 250-pound Tillman, was whistled for his third foul with just 3:25 left in the second quarter. Backup Jacorey Sullivan also picked up two quick fouls trying to bang with Tillman, forcing Guy to insert freshman Billie Roberts as another big body.

“It was a heavyweight fight and we tried to be physical,” Guy said. “Some refs let you play that way, some don’t. Tonight they didn’t, but we have to adjust to the way the officials are calling the game.”

Despite the Big Reds’ struggles offensively, they were still in the game early.

A corner three-pointer by DeAndre Carter with 45 seconds left in the first half gave the Big Reds some optimism at halftime, when they trailed 25-13.

Five-straight points from senior forward Markell Jackson helped Muskegon close to 33-20 with under two minutes remaining in the third quarter.

But the Eagles’ biggest spurt was their most important. They closed the third quarter on a 10-0 run, keyed by seven points from reserve guard Thad Shymanski.

The 43-20 deficit was too much for the Big Reds to overcome. The Eagles turned it on cruise control in the fourth, producing a breakaway dunk by Tillman and an emphatic alley-oop slam by senior forward James Beck, who finished with 14 points and eight rebounds.

Jackson, the Big Reds’ 6-6 forward, led the team with 10 points, but no other Muskegon player scored more than four.

Guy said his players were crushed, but experiencing a tremendous 23-1 season should help ease the pain.

“This senior class did things the right way,” he said. “Definitely true leaders in every sense. I feel fortunate and blessed to even have had the opportunity to coach these guys. I’m going to miss them and I love each and every one of them.

“They made my job fun every day because I had the opportunity to coach these seniors. Because they were winners.”