By Tom Westerholm
Martin is just a freshman, but playing on one of the best boys’ basketball teams in the state, he has both witnessed and experienced a number of opportunities to catch and throw down a big dunk – including the one he punched late during Muskegon’s dominant 68-41 victory over Grand Rapids Union on Tuesday.
So what’s it like up there?
“It’s really scary,” Martin said.
“It’s a lot that can happen in the air,” Martin said. “But when you do get it, it’s a good feeling.”
The rest of the team agrees.
“I wouldn’t be the guy going for the lobs,” senior guard Jordan Briggs said with a smile. “But … it’s really exciting. It’s really a momentum play. Just seeing one go down, that really gets the whole team amped up. So that’s a good feeling not just for the finisher, but also the passer.”
Martin caught one of the two lobs thrown and dunked by a Muskegon player during the second half of Tuesday’s game (the other came courtesy of junior Montrel Oliver). By that point, the contest was all but decided.
The Big Reds built a 21-15 lead after one quarter, but they allowed just four points in the second – stifling Union defensively. The quarter started with a 3-pointer by senior David Day III – one of four he cashed in. Immediately after Day’s triple, Martin stole the inbounds pass and scored a layup. Three minutes later, Day scored another tough layup. Union answered with a layup, but the basket was the Red Hawks’ only field goal of the second. Day buried two more threes, and Muskegon went into halftime already on the verge of a blowout.
“We started communicating better,” Muskegon coach Keith Guy said. “I thought we were out of sync at first. We were giving up drives, drive-and-kicks, we didn’t have good ball screen coverage on the pick and pops, and I think we adjusted that.”
Then, at the start of the third, Briggs blew the game open with a flurry of 3-pointers – three straight makes on three consecutive possessions, which pushed the lead to 47-20.
“Coach just told me to keep shooting,” Briggs said. “He saw I had it going, so he let me keep going. I kind of ran out of gas a little bit there, but it felt good just to see the ball go through the hoop.”
Briggs missed a chance at a four-point play on the final 3-pointer, as well as a heat check on the next possession (which Guy didn’t seem to mind, although as Briggs noted, “he did take me out”), but Union scored just eight points in the third quarter as well. Both teams used their benches extensively in the fourth.
Briggs tallied a game-high 21 points, knocking down six of Muskegon’s 12 triples. Day added 16 points and four 3-pointers, while Anthony Sydnor III scored seven.
“That’s a good team,” Briggs said. “They are tied for second in the conference, so we couldn’t take them lightly. We had to come out and take care of business. We look at every opponent the same way. We have to come out and carry out our game plan against everybody and just play for each other.”
Guy reiterated his preseason belief that Briggs should be a “legit” Mr. Basketball candidate in Michigan.
“When you play the schedule we’ve played and you’re averaging 20 points a game, and you’re on one of the top teams in the state of Michigan, and you continue to get better playing tough teams, I think we can make a tournament run,” Guy said. “I’ve had two Mr. Basketballs back-to-back, so I really know what they look like. And he’s one.”
Tuesday’s victory clinched at least a share of the OK Conference-Green title for Muskegon. While the Big Reds have bigger goals than a conference title, Guy compared it to winning an important level in a video game.
“You can’t get to one level without winning this level,” Guy said. “So, this is a trophy along the way to the next one. We already know, we just want to pick this one up on the way to the bigger one.
“If you want to win the state championship, you can’t get there without winning the district championship. So, it’s all about the process and staying in the moment and taking care of what’s in front of us.”
Muskegon improved to 16-1 with the victory and 11-0 in the conference. Union fell to 11-6 overall and 7-3 in the conference.