The most bizarre episode of the 2013 boys basketball postseason across the nation may have unfolded on Monday night in Michigan, where a team that held a lead stalled for more than seven minutes in the second quarter, only to come out and rush to an even larger victory in the second half.
As first reported by MLive.com, the Muskegon Heights (Mi.) Academy boys basketball team cruised to a 58-44 victory against Galesburg-Augusta (Mi.) High in a Michigan High School Activities Association Class C Regional semifinal. That the Tigers won was not particularly surprising; they entered the game as favorites to advance. What was surprising was how a team that has thrived with a frenetic, full court press throughout 2013 turned to an extreme slow down to get the job done.
According to MLive’s Matt Gajtka, Muskegon Heights led 21-16 after the first quarter. As soon as the second quarter kicked off, Galesburg-Augusta (G-A) kept the tempo where it was, rushing down the floor and hitting a driving layup to cut the lead to 21-18.
As it turned out, that would be the entirety of the action in the second quarter, with Muskegon Heights literally holding the ball between two players until there were only 20 seconds remaining in the period.
The strategy might have made conceptual sense -- even if it was a bit unsportsmanlike -- if it weren’t for the fact that Muskegon Heights immediately abandoned the tactic at the start of the second half. The Tigers came out for the third quarter with the same fast breaking, pressure trapping intensity they used at the start of the game … and promptly built up a significant edge that ballooned to 37-26 with just 1:36 remaining in the period.
Naturally, that begs the question: If Muskegon Heights could push out a big lead whenever it wanted to, why did the Tigers stall for an entire quarter?
"They showed they were willing to pull the ball out [and stall] if they got any kind of lead," Muskegon Heights coach Dell Stewart told MLive, referring to a brief period in the first quarter when G-A stalled for 45 seconds.
"We saw their talent offensively, and we decided to hold the ball if they stayed in their zone defense, which was hurting us. We might have attacked if they came out at us (in a man-to-man)."
If that was the true motivation, then clearly the Muskegon Heights-G-A contest should go down in the annals as one of Michigan’s most bizarre contests, a flat track scoring race that devolved into a tet-a-tet blinking contest between stalling coaches.
As it was, G-A coach Tim Born said he and his team were more than happy with Muskegon’s surprising decision to stall, if only because it kept them in the game until halftime, when they could try to make adjustments.
In the end, those adjustments didn’t pan out, and the Tigers went on to advance to the regional finals. That left G-A in the loss column for the final time in the 2013 season, but G-A wasn’t the only loser. The fans also lost a perfectly good quarter of basketball to the lack of shot clock and a bizarre strategic decision by one coach.
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