By Randy Gregory
It was far from a classic contest as Rockford ventured to Muskegon Heights on Friday, December 7th for the opening game of the 2012-13 boys basketball season. The Rams were burned repeatedly in the first half with fast break points from the speedy Tigers. But the Rams refused to fold and battled back time and again and seemed to have forced overtime at 59-59 when an awkward twisting fall away jumper by the Tigers came up well off the mark at the buzzer from about thirty feet away.
But the tweet of a solitary whistle seemed to catch everyone in attendance by surprise. The perimeter official came rushing in to signal a foul on the shot and the Tigers would have a chance to win it with no time on the clock. Junior Jeffrey Jordan calmly stepped to the stripe and the ball settled in the net after bouncing around the rim a few times. Game over and the Tigers celebrated accordingly.
Rockford coach Nick Allen refused to put any of the onus on the officials after the game.
“They (Muskegon Heights) are a good team,” said Allen. “They were better than we were tonight. As for the officials, they call what they are going to call and see what they are going to see. There were a hundred other plays tonight that had just as big an impact on the game tonight as that last one.”
The game began with both teams feeling each other out and trading the lead back and forth. Rockford held a 13-11 lead before the Tigers closed things out with a 7-2 run that gave them an 18-15 lead after one quarter. The second quarter was more of the same and it was a 30-30 game with 2:30 left in the first half. But the Tigers closed out the second quarter with a flurry. The Tigers went up 41-34 with consecutive steals and layups in the final thirty seconds before a Chad Carlson hoop just before the horn made it 41-36 Tigers at the half.
Allen was less than pleased with the effort of the Rams defensively in the first half.
“We just have to get it in our hearts that we want to defend,” said Allen. “Defense is all about effort and hard work and it just wasn’t there in the first half. We were better in the second half, but the most disappointing thing about the game tonight was the effort defensively.”
The second half began the same way the first half ended with the Tigers exerting their will and getting multiple attempts in their opening few possessions. That prompted Allen into an expression of frustration that is about as strong a signal as a coach can send to his team. He substituted all five of his players out en masse. That helped stem the tide temporarily but the Tigers still pushed the lead to 51-42 before the Rams began their gradual comeback.
Casey Watters scored seven of his eleven points in the third stanza to keep the Rams within shouting distance, but Carlson was the catalyst in the fourth quarter. Rockford tied things up at 51-51, 54-54 on a Carlson triple and 59-59 on another Carlson three-pointer with 10.7 seconds to play. But the Tigers and the refs would have the final say and the Rams fell despite a valiant effort.
“We were able to get things back more towards the tempo we wanted in the fourth quarter,” said Allen. “Not as many shots went up in the final quarter and we did a better job of rebounding their misses. But it is still difficult to find anything positive about our play. We will just get back at it and work hard next week.”
Carlson paced the Rams with 26 points (four three-pointers) paced by some deadly marksmanship from outside. Zach Finkbeiner, Chase Fairchild and Robert Holmes all tallied six points as well to go along with Watters efforts.