By Andrew Johnson

BELDING – In March Madness, it only takes one second to end a great season and a terrific tournament run.

That’s what happened to the Muskegon Heights boys’ basketball team on Wednesday.

Muskegon Heights senior guard Antoine Jones scoops in for two of his 21 points. Photo/Jason Goorman

Keishon Watson hit a bucket with 18.3 seconds remaining in the game, giving Muskegon Heights a one-point lead over Grand Rapids Covenant Christian in the Class C regional finals at Belding High School.

Covenant Christian called time out to draw up one last play.

The Chargers got the ball to Carson Meulenberg, who put up a fade-away jumper that hung on the rim before dropping through with 1.3 seconds left, giving Covenant Christian a stunning 51-50 victory and the regional championship.

It was a tough way for Muskegon Heights to end a great season.

The Tigers, who finished with an 18-6 record and conference and district titles, also lost in the reginal finals last year.

“It was heartbreaking, certainly,” said Muskegon Heights Coach Dale Stewart. “What a hell of a game. They fought. We fought. It was a great officiated game. It just turned out to be they had the last possession and made a play after we made a play. It was just tournament basketball. Meulenberg hit a heck of a shot.”

Stewart said he was proud of his team and how much it accomplished, after starting the season with a lot of question marks.

“I just took a moment to try and reflect on how we started the season,” he said. “The expectations weren’t great. We lost two guys to graduation and two who transferred to Muskegon, along with three who didn’t play. Expectations weren’t high. We wound up unexpectedly in the same place as last year.”

Muskegon Heights had an 18-13 lead after the first quarter, behind 12 points from senior guard Antoine Jones, who continually slashed the Charger defense.

Keishon Watson gets fouled on the shot by Covenant Christian’s Carson Meulenberg. Photo/Jason Goorman

“Antoine Jones is one of the most special players I’ve had the privilege to coach,” Stewart said. “He’s a quiet storm. He isn’t much for words, but his play is remarkable. He has a quiet calm about him in everything he does.”

The Tigers slowed down in the second quarter, scoring only six points and trailing 26-24 at halftime.

Muskegon Heights opened the third quarter with a 7-0 run and led 31-26 lead with 5:54 left in the quarter and 38-26 at the buzzer.

Neither team applied a knockout blow in the fourth.

Watson hit a key basket and free throw with 5:08 left, giving Heights a 45-41 lead. Covenant scored the next six points and had a 47-45 edge with 2:33 left.

Antoine Jones fouled out with 43.4 seconds to go and Covenant Christian leading 49-48.

The Charters missed the first free throw of a one-and-one, and Muskegon Heights got the rebound and called time out with 34.5 seconds left.

The Tigers’ Anthony Jones missed a layup, but Watson grabbed the rebound and scored to give Heights a 50-49 lead with 18.3 seconds left.

That led to Meulenberg’s final bucket that secured the victory for the Chargers.

“I was confident it was going in,” Meulenberg said. “I did a little fake to the right and got my defender off guard and it went in.”

Covenant Christian Coach Tyler Schimmel admitted that the game-winning shot was not the play he designed during the time out.

“No, it wasn’t how I drew it up,” he said. “But I’m glad it went in. “I was about to call time out (before the shot), but I saw he had it in the high post and I was like, you know what, we probably won’t get a better look. It hung on the rim and made me nervous, but it went in.”

Stewart quickly called time out after Meulenberg’s basket to plan a desperation play, but it didn’t work out for the Tigers.

Antoine Jones led all scorers with 21 points, while Watson finished with 10 points and Anthony Jones had eight for Muskegon Heights.

Covenant Christian was led by Meulenberg with 19 points and Trenton Koole with 17.