By Steve Gunn
MUSKEGON – Huge leads were definitely not safe in the sports world on Sunday, nationally or close to home.
Of course everyone knows how the Houston Texans stunned everyone by jumping out to a 24-0 lead over the heavily-favored Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC playoffs, only to see the Chiefs roar back for a 51-31 victory.
In Muskegon, the West Michigan Lake Hawks, who are off to a great start this season, looked strong coming back from their long holiday break by building a 27-point lead over the visiting Wisconsin Blaze, a team they beat by 20-plus points earlier this season.
But the Lake Hawks, who torched the nets with nine 3-pointers in the first half, went cold in the second, allowing Wisconsin a shred of hope.
The Blaze took full advantage, clawing all the way back to take the lead with just under five minutes remaining, then holding on to beat the Lake Hawks 119-117 in a wild American Basketball Association game at Redmond-Potter Gymnasium at Muskegon High School.
The Lake Hawks, ranked seventh in the nation in the ABA, fell to 10-2 on the season. Their next home game will be Feb. 1 against LaCrosse.
“We’re not going to make any excuses, we just didn’t play well in the second half,” said Lake Hawks Coach Ron Jenkins. “We said we didn’t want to get outscored in the third quarter, then we get outscored 37-25. We just lost our focus. Now we have to go back to the drawing board and come back in the next game and make it happen.”
The Lake Hawks were on fire in the first two quarters, and the game looked like a mismatch.
Five different Lake Hawks scored at least six points in the first quarter, and the home team led 39-21 at the first buzzer. William Roberson Jr. led West Michigan with 11 points, including three triples. Jacarius Scott added nine for the Lake Hawks.
The second quarter was a little more balanced, but the Lake Hawks still outscored Wisconsin 30-26 to take a 69-47 lead at halftime. Terry Walker had the hot hand for West Michigan, hitting four triples for 12 points.
The third quarter opened much the same way. Marquis Brewer nailed a 3-pointer for the Lake Hawks just 10 seconds into the half, and Scott added a rebound and layup shortly after, giving West Michigan a 74-47 lead.
The Lake Hawks matched that 27-point advantage by taking a 78-51 lead 2 ½ minutes into the half.
Bu then West Michigan’s shots started missing the mark, and Wisconsin fought back into the contest. The Blaze went on a 14-0 run to cut its deficit to 78-65 midway through the third quarter. The Lake Hawks rebuilt their edge to 19 points, 89-70, with 3:30 left in the third, but it was all downhill from there.
The Lake Hawks led 94-84 headed into the fourth, but Wisconsin cut the deficit to 105-99 with 5:30 left in the game. The Blaze then went on an 8-0 run and took its first lead of the game since the opening seconds, 107-105, with 4:54 remaining.
The Lake Hawks tied the game 107-107, then Wisconsin hit a bucket and added four free throws after two West Michigan technical fouls with 3:08 left.
Wisconsin led 117-111 with 30 seconds remaining. Walker hit a triple to cut the Lake Hawks’ deficit to three. Wisconsin added a free throw, then West Michigan’s Ralph Monday nailed three free throws after being fouled in 3-point territory, leaving the Blaze clinging to a 118-117 lead.
Wisconsin added one more free throw to take a two-point lead, then a last-second 3-point attempt by the Lake Hawks missed the mark.
The Blaze outscored the Lake Hawks 37-25 in the third quarter and 25-13 in the fourth. The Lake Hawks made only 17 of 47 shots from the floor in the second half, while Wisconsin converted 26 of 47. The visitors also nailed nine 3-pointers after halftime.
“Being ranked where we are, there’s a lot of pressure,” Jenkins said. “Sometimes we try too hard instead of just playing and having fun. I don’t think we had much fun in that second half.”
Walker led West Michigan with 32 points, including eight triples. Roberson finished with 17 points, Scott and Tremayne Thompson totaled 15, Brewer had 12 and Marquis Pool scored 11. Pool also snagged 12 rebounds in the contest.
Jemale Brown paced Wisconsin with 27 points.