Muskegon Muscles Past River Rouge 68-50

6 Mar

3L9A9520A strenuous day of studies at school, a 200 mile bus trip, and a visit to the famed River Rouge “jungle.”

All three were obstacles facing Muskegon in the Big Reds’ twentieth and and final game of the year.  However, the state’s number two and defending Class A champion  prevailed for a 68-50 against Class B contender River Rouge, improving their record to 19-1.

The game was truly decided in the opening eight minutes.  After a sluggish start for both teams, the Big Reds led 7-4 with 2:40 left in the first.  From then on, Muskegon used a 12-3 spurt to close the quarter and led 19-7, a lead that would not be cut to single digits the rest of the contest.

Senior leadership can assist in neutralizing a hostile crowd.   Fortunately, Muskegon has the combination of Joeviair Kennedy and Michigan State bound Deyonta Davis to do so.  Davis led Muskegon with 20 points, 15 rebounds, and seven blocks, while Kennedy contributed 17 points, six rebounds, and five assists.

Kennedy scored 14 of his 17 points in the first half to set the tempo for Muskegon.

“First-half is always good for me,” Kennedy said following the game.  “I always start out with a lot of energy.”

Muskegon would stretch their lead as much as 18 in the first half, leading 36-18 in the first half.  The Big Red defense stifled the Panther attack the entire night.  River Rouge was forced to settle for contested three-point and mid-range jump shots throughout the first half.  The Panther field-goal percentage was 20 percent in the opening 16 minutes.

Not much changed for the Big Reds in the second half, the only challenge for Muskegon was playing without Davis roughly two minutes in the third quarter.  Head coach Keith Guy was unhappy with Davis’ on-court presence, and took the challenge to sit his star big man.

“He’s going to have to take the message I give him,” Guy said, “or he’s going to sit.”  “I’m harder on him than I am anybody.”

The trip to the bench fueled Davis once Guy decided to place him back in the game.  Deyonta scored seven of his team-high 20 points in the final quarter alone, including a few impressive alley-oops, some of which were from Kennedy.

“Best one-two pouch in the state,” Guy said of Kennedy and Davis, “their unselfish, play for one another, they feed of one another.”

According to Guy, the Kennedy-Davis relationship extends far-beyond basketball.  It’s a unique brotherhood the two have formed the past four years.

“If I’m giving away snacks after practice, and one of them is not around, they’ll try to get the snack for each other.  It’s a brotherhood.”

The one positive performance for the Panthers was senior 6’7″ forward Jalen Gibson.  After only scoring one point in the first-half, Gibson took it on himself and provide a stand to the Big Red onslaught.  Gibson scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half, playing fearlessly against Davis.  Unfortunately for Gibson and Rouge, he picked up his fifth foul with 3:40 seconds remaining in the fourth.  Rouge had just cut the deficit to the smallest it was the second-half, 13 points.

Part of the Big Red defensive game-plan was to nullify River Rouge senior star guard LaMonta Stone.  Stone, a diminutive 5’8,” is one of the state’s most prolific scorers.  While Stone led his team with 17, he was 6-19 on the game, and scoreless the entire fourth quarter.

“One of the things we tried to do was keep him out of the paint,” Guy said.  “I think he goes to his left better than he does his right.  So we tried to force him a little bit to his right.  We wanted to make him volume shooter.”

Along with Kennedy and Davis, Muskegon’s role players had quiet yet productive games.  Darryl Kirkland and Michael Littlejohn were the primary ball-handlers and orchestrators of the offense.  The Big Reds committed just 10 turnovers the entire game, and only four in the first-half.  Littlejohn and Kirkland combined for 12 assists.

Although the Big Reds have won 47 of their past 48 games, the Big Reds have not gotten out much to show their talents across the state.  Aside from a trip to West Bloomfield in late December, the Big Reds’ farthest game from home has been in Grand Rapids.   Both Kennedy and Guy are adamant the challenges the team confronted today will only grow the team’s character once  the state tournament commences.

“This is as best a 20th game you can,” Guy added.  While Kennedy added “This is very hostile environment playing somewhere like this.  This is how it’s going to be in the playoffs.”

And about the potential for a Muskegon repeat in Class A, Kennedy isn’t shy.

“I say we’re going to do another repeat.”

Muskegon is next in action Wednesday beginning district semi-finals against either Muskegon Reeths-Puther or Mona Shores.  While Rouge hits the hardwood Monday against Henry Ford Academy with a final regular-season record of 15-5.

(Photo courtesy of Paul Snyder)

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