VICKSBURG – With less than a minute remaining in a tied ballgame, the Vicksburg boys basketball team tried to reverse a recent trend of falling short in close ballgames.
Playing for the final shot, Plainwell made the Bulldogs work for it – for nearly a full minute, in fact, while Plainwell wound down the clock. With 2.6 seconds left, Plainwell senior Luke Morrell drew a foul and hit two free throws to give Plainwell the lead, and eventually the win, 61-59.
“We knew that either (Morrell) or (Evan Finch) would get the shot, we just wanted to keep them in front of us and make them shoot a tough shot, and I thought we did,” said Vicksburg head coach Jeff Lovell. “We got that foul that I thought was a 50-50 call that didn’t go our way.”
A back-and-forth affair saw a multitude of lead changes in the final quarter. Morrell’s two free throws were the game’s final lead change, as a deep three-pointer from Vicksburg’s Garrett Ketelaar was off the mark.
“Tough way to lose a game,” Lovell said. “The guys were kind of quiet, they’re hurting a little bit. They played their hearts out. That’s three games in a row we’ve lost where we’ve been right there in the last minute of the game.”
Vicksburg (2-5, 1-4 Wolverine Conference) trailed most of the first half, but only went into halftime down 28-27. In the third quarter, a stretch of three-consecutive three-pointers helped the Bulldogs build up a 38-32 lead. It was at that point, however, that some of Vicksburg’s youth began to show. Some forced shots on offense led to empty possessions, and Plainwell capitalized by drawing within one point by the end of the third quarter.
“We were starting to take command of the game a little bit, I thought, but we let them back in the game with our mental decisions,” Lovell said.
The Bulldogs got a balanced scoring effort, with three players in double figures. Leading the way was senior C.J Laske, who had 18 points. Ben Johnson had 13 points, and Garrett Ketelaar added 11. Vicksburg went 15-of-20 from the free-throw line, and got a good chunk of offense from beyond the perimeter, where the team hit eight three-pointers.
“They shot extraordinarily well,” said Plainwell head coach Dan Klein. “We knew (Laske) could shoot. We didn’t know (Johnson) had that kind of range. Their three-point shooting really put them in the game in the first half.”
Plainwell (3-3) was led by Morrell and fellow senior Evan Finch. They were the two leading scorers for the game, with Morrell pouring in 23 and Finch adding 21 points.
While perhaps not as impressive on the score sheet, Plainwell junior guard Isaac Davis provided a big lift, with multiple steals leading to baskets for Plainwell. Davis finished with 6 points.
“Isaac is one of the better players in this league right now,” Klein said. “He does it without putting up gaudy scoring numbers. He does it by controlling the floor; he does it by playing good defense. He doesn’t commit turnovers, and he’s immensely gifted with the ball.”
For Vicksburg, finding ways to close out these close games will begin with a similar formula. As Lovell said, closing out games starts with treating the ball like gold.
“I think it’s just experience,” Lovell said. “The more we’re in that situation, the better we’ll be at handling it. I thought we handled it pretty well tonight, we just didn’t win the game.”
Vicksburg 12 15 18 14 – 59
Plainwell 15 13 16 17 – 61
C.J. Laske – 18 points
Ben Johnson – 13 points
Caleb Conklin – 6 points
Garrett Ketelaar – 11 points
Shane Earl – 7 points
Tyler Vallier – 1 point
Kyle Rose – 3 points
Isaac Davis – 6 points
Ryan Topp – 2 points
Liam Davis – 2 points
Luke Morrell – 23 points
Nolan Troff – 7 points
Evan Finch – 21 points