By Nate Thompson
If a rebound is underway for the Tigers, it started on the right path on Friday when Muskegon Heights easily breezed past Lakes 8 Conference rival Orchard View at home, 65-48.
The Tigers improved to 3-6 overall and 2-2 in conference play. OV fell to 3-6 and remains winless in the conference at 0-5.
Muskegon Heights welcomed senior Daquan Walker to its starting lineup for the first time, and the 6-foot-5 transfer from Muskegon High School, by way of Holland, didn’t disappoint. He led the Tigers with 19 points, grabbed eight rebounds and also had a pair of blocked shots.
“He brings great versatility,” Stewart said. “He can spot up from three, he’s good on the glass. Just a tough guy. We’ve had peaks and valleys all year, but due to a lack of experience, we’ve gave up some games I’ve thought we should have had. But he makes us better overall. He would make any team better.”
Forced to sit out the first part of the season due to transfer rules, Walker had moments when he appeared to be thinking instead of reacting on Friday. But Tigers’ point guard Elijah Moore said he expects great things from his new teammate.
“I think we’re going to be very dangerous, especially in the playoffs,” Moore said. “I know (Walker) hasn’t played in too many games, but once he gets the team chemistry, we’re going to be a hard team to beat.”
The first half was plagued by choppy and sloppy offense, with the Tigers and Cardinals combining for 22 turnovers. But Heights took a 37-20 lead into the half, thanks to Walker’s 13 points and a stellar 14-for-14 effort at the free throw line.
The Tigers finished the contest 21-of-23 from the charity stripe.
Muskegon Heights did a better job of taking care of the ball in the third quarter, and managed to get it to senior post player Kieshon Watson down low. He scored six of his 10 points in the third quarter, when the Tigers built a larger cushion on the scoreboard, 59-35.
Moore was the catalyst, Stewart said, in settling the Tigers down and playing mistake-free basketball at the point guard position. He scored 12 points, including all six of his free throws.
“We had to do a better job of getting the ball down to our big man (Watson) down low,” Moore said. “He’s a main part of our offense.
“Coach wants me to be a leader out there on the court. Run the show.”
Orchard View senior guard Jaylin Briggs paced the Cardinals with 16 points, while sophomore forward Edmari Mitchell added 12 . The Cardinals finished with 22 turnovers against the Tigers’ relentless pressure defense.
The Tigers will get a night of rest before facing another big challenge on their schedule, undefeated Benton Harbor. The squads will tip off on Saturday at 4 p.m. at Muskegon Heights.