By Dave Tomczak

MUSKEGON – In a season-opening showdown, the Muskegon girls basketball team held its own against a quality opponent – at least in the first half.

But then East Kentwood, the Class A state runner-up last season and the O-K Red Conference favorite this winter, pulled away in the second half and handed the host Big Reds a 69-44 loss at Redmond-Potter Gymnasium.

“You want to have a good opponent to start the season off with,” said Muskegon coach Rodney Walker. “If it’s a win, it’s a good thing. If it’s a loss, you look at the things you can iron out.”

It was a slow start for both squads, with the Big Reds and Falcons combining for only six field goals in the first quarter and a 9-7 East Kentwood lead.

The offenses picked up steam in the second, and the Big Reds looked comfortable going toe-to-toe with the Falcons. Daz’sha Day scored nine of her team’s first 13 points and Muskegon went to the break trailing only 26-22.

Dez’sha Day looks to drive for Muskegon. Photo/Leo Valdez

But as good as Muskegon played in the first half, troubled loomed around the corner, because starters Brianna Alexander, Brionne Crews and Diynasti Dowell went to halftime with three fouls apiece.

That would limit their playing time in the third quarter, and East Kentwood took advantage.

With Crews and Dowell on the bench, the Falcons went on a 16-4 run to start the second half. They outscored the Big Reds 20-9 in the third quarter and led 46-31 lead heading into the fourth.

“We were feeling good about where we were at in the first half, considering we missed some easy shots,” Walker said. “But the foul trouble really hurt us. We need certain players to be in the game to make a run, but we had to sit them.”

Dowell got back in the game in the fourth quarter and scored eight of her team-high 16 points. But Muskegon’s points were offset by the Falcons’ fast break, which went into high gear whenever the Big Reds missed a shot.

East Kentwood sealed up the victory with a 23-13 edge in the final eight minutes.

“We definitely have to work on our transition defense, and that’s on me,” Walker added. “I’m pleased with a few things we did and not pleased with a lot of things we did. We have a lot of work to do.”

Dowell finished with six rebounds and three steals. Daz’sha Day grabbed six rebounds and scored 12 points.

East Kentwood, now 2-0, was led by Alona Blackwell with 14 points and Shaylnn Ewing with 13.