GAYLORD - At this point in the season, in a win-or-go-home situation, toughness and heart are often qualities that carry teams through games.
After Monday, there's no doubting either in the Marquette Senior High School boys basketball team.
Unfortunately for the Redmen, they'll need to wait until next season to showcase those same traits that brought them a 19-4 season and their first district title since 2009, as MSHS fell to Muskegon, 53-49, in an MHSAA Class A regional semifinal matchup at Gaylord.
Marquette Senior High School junior guard Andrew Nyquist looks to drive around Muskegon’s William Roberson on Monday in an MHSAA Class A regional semifinal game in Gaylord. (Photo courtesy of Drew Kochanny)
"That's the team that we have. We fight hard no matter what, I don't care who we're playing, but you're going to get a fight out of us," Marquette coach Brad Nelson said. "I can't question my kids' effort. It's disappointing, but there's more to life than basketball."
Down two with just under a minute remaining at 48-46 following a pair of free throws by Redmen senior Mark Pap, Marquette fell into a six-point hole after back-to-back fouls.
Junior Andrew Nyquist sank a deep 3-pointer with 4.3 seconds left, however, making it a three-point 52-49 game, and keeping the Redmen's hopes alive.
Another foul by Marquette would send Muskegon junior Jordan Waire to the line, as he'd go on to make one of two to make and a four-point cushion, sealing Marquette's fate.
"We know we could have won that game," Nelson said. "We could have let it slip away, but we kept battling back and it was a two- or three-point game throughout the second half."
Neither team particularly opened the game with the hot hand as the first quarter came to a close on a deep 3-pointer by Redmen guard Brad Brow, giving a 7-4 advantage to Marquette after one.
Muskegon got off to a fast start in the second, opening with a 13-2 run thanks largely due to offensive putbacks and fast-break points. The second quarter would close with Muskegon up 19-13 at the half.
Marquette wouldn't go away in the second half, opening strong with an 8-2 run to make it a 21-all game with just under four minutes to play in the third quarter, showing the fight Muskegon coach Keith Guy expected.
"I knew they weren't going to back down," Guy said. "I knew they were going to be prepared. They're a tough team, tough kids, well coached. To be on the road and pull this off, I'm happy about it."
Muskegon would make another run for a six-point lead, but Marquette would find its way back to close the third quarter down 31-29.
The Redmen's long-range shooting would keep them in the fourth quarter as sophomore Connor Brazeau tied the game with a 3-pointer at 38-all, then Brow got the Redmen out of another uncomfortable deficit, hitting a triple with just over two minutes remaining to bring Marquette out of a four-point hole.
Muskegon's 4-of-6 mark from the free throw line in the end, however, would take down the Redmen.
"I think it took them a little bit of time to adjust to how physical and athletic they are," Nelson said. "We did a good job in the second half."
Brow and Pap each led the way with 10 points for Marquette, while Pap added six rebounds and three blocks. Nyquist and Grazulis both had nine points. For Muskegon, (18-6) which moves on to play Hudsonville on Wednesday in Cedar Springs in the regional final, junior Deshaun Thrower scored 16 points and sophomore Joeviair Kennedy had 10.
Nelson won't let one final loss diminish a special season for the Redmen, one which included a Great Northern Conference title and Class A district title.
"We had an outstanding year, this is a great group of kids," he said. "I know every kid in that locker room, whether they're a sophomore or senior, is going to go further in life and contribute to society and that's something I can be really proud of calling myself their coach."