By Mitchell Boatman

KALAMAZOO – Perfection is never easily attained, especially in the sporting world.

The Muskegon Big Reds were reminded of that on Thursday night, by Kalamazoo Loy Norrix and their coach.

The exciting news is that the Big Red pulled away from a stubborn Loy Norrix squad to win 69-45 on the road and wrap up a perfect 20-0 regular season.

Markel Jackson goes up for the shot from the Muskegon post. Photo/Jason Goorman

Under ordinary circumstances that would be cause for great celebration, but Muskegon Coach Keith Guy was not particularly happy after the game.

That’s because the contest was close most of the way, and the Big Reds did not perform the way Guy hoped they would with the state tournament just around the corner.

“I’m disappointed in how we played,” Guy said. “I thought we were awful. I’ll probably enjoy it more tomorrow or a week from now, but today I’m not happy.

“I told the other coaches, ‘Maybe we need to lose.’ I really don’t care about 20-0. Maybe we needed to take one.”

Muskegon players, on the other hand, were thrilled to wrap up a perfect regular season. The Big Reds last went 20-0 in 2013-14, when they rolled all the way to the Class A state championship.

“It feels great actually. Not good, great,” said senior Markell Jackson, who had a big night with 25 points and 13 rebounds. “We thought about it all day, every day. We’ve talked about it every day.”

Jackson admitted that that his team didn’t play its best against Loy Norrix, but said he was never worried.

“We got too comfortable when we got the big lead, but I knew we were going to pull through,” he said.

Muskegon guard Willie Shanks, Jr. flies in for the monster fast-break dunk. Photo/Jason Goorman

Fellow senior Sam Cornett Jr. said he was just enjoying being part of a winning team. Cornett played in Grandville last year for a team that finished below .500.

“It feels great,” said Cornett, who totaled nine points and 10 rebounds in the game. “I’ve always had a lot of losses in my basketball career, and I’ve never had a winning record. Being 20-0 is just great.”

Both players agreed that the Big Reds’ victory over Chicago Whitney Young in early January allowed the thought of a perfect season to creep into their minds.

“That was our toughest test,” Cornett said. “We‘ve faced adversity throughout the year and we always play up to the competition.”

Cornett added that a perfect regular season was near the top of the team’s list of goals this season – right behind winning a state championship.

“That’s the ultimate goal,” he said. “We can’t lack focus. We need to keep our eyes on the prize.”

For the Big Reds to accomplish that goal, they’ll have to play better than they did on Thursday, according to Coach Guy.

“The seniors better step up and be leaders and get back to the basketball we’re accustomed to playing, or there won’t be a tournament run,” he said.

“We weren’t focused, we were missing layups, we missed free throws. We were awful. We won’t win most nights playing like this.

“We disrespected the game. We disrespected the name on our shirts. To be honest with you, we didn’t even deserve to win tonight.”

The Big Reds opened the game with a 10-0 run and led 14-2 at the end of the first quarter and 29-19 at halftime.

A 9-0 run in the third quarter brought the Knights within three points at 34-31. Muskegon ended the quarter on an 8-3 run to extend its lead to 43-35 at the buzzer.

Loy Norrix never got closer than nine points after that, but remained within striking distance until the final few minutes.

Cold shooting from the free-throw line and 3-point range were points of frustration for the Big Reds. They were just 12-for-32 from the stripe and 3-for-15 from beyond the arc.

Jermayne Golidy had 13 points and 12 rebounds for Muskegon while Anthony Bethea added 10 points.

Muskegon will face off against Reeths-Puffer Monday in the first round of the Class A district tournament.