By Dave Tomczak
MUSKEGON – In its biggest game so far of the young season, North Muskegon turned to its defense to get the job done.
Trailing 19-18 after one quarter, the Norse defense put the clamps on Ravenna in the second and third quarters and earned a 61-51 West Michigan Conference win at home Friday in a showdown of unbeaten teams.
North Muskegon improved to 7-0 overall and 5-0 in WMC play, while the Bulldogs fell to 6-1 overall and 4-1 in the conference.
“Coming into this game we talked about handling the pressure and playing defense,” NM coach Chuck Rypstra said. “They’re a real good team and we gave up the most points (of the season) tonight, but I think we really made them work for the 51 they did get.”
In a loud, crowded North Muskegon gymnasium, Ravenna kept the crowd quiet in the opening quarter, hitting four-of-six from 3-point range and sprinting out to a 19-17 lead.
But the Norse defense cut down on the Bulldogs’ open looks in the second quarter, outscored Ravenna 15-5, and took a 32-24 lead into halftime.
“We just had to defend a little harder,” Rypstra said. “They have two guys who are really hard to stay in front of, so we had to defend the perimeter and force them to kick the ball inside.”
While the defense was shutting Ravenna down, the offense finished the second quarter on a 9-0 run, with five points coming from TJ McKenzie, who scored seven of his 12 first-half points in the period.
It was more of the same to start the third quarter, when the Norse had a 7-0 run, opening up North Muskegons’ biggest lead, 39-24, with 5:41 left in the third.
The Bulldogs cut the lead to 42-32 to end the third quarter, then pulled within 45-40 early in the fourth, but never got any closer because NM scored on back-to-back fast-break layups, the second coming as DeShary Warren knocked the ball loose at half court and cruised in all alone.
“It was a big win for us, with both teams coming in undefeated,” Warren said. “This is what we wanted, to see if we can actually play up against good teams.”
Warren finished the game with 14 points and four steals, while McKenzie led all scorers with 20 points.
John Hayhurst grabbed 12 rebounds for the Norse, Eric Rypstra scored eight and Jesse Cooke finished with four blocked shots.
Josh Cox led Ravenna with 15 points and Jacob May added 13 points with 12 rebounds.