MUSKEGON – The Muskegon boys basketball team missed a lot of free throws Tuesday night, making its showdown with Reeths-Puffer closer than it might have been, but ironically it was free throws that won the game for the Big Reds.

The Big Reds went 17-for 33 from the line in the game, losing precious points and allowing the Rockets to keep it close.

But Jordan Biggs nailed seven of his eight free throws in the last 80 seconds, clinching a 55-47 victory for Muskegon in a key O-K Green conference matchup.

“As a point guard, you have to be able to knock down free throws,” Briggs said, “When the team is in a slump, I know I have to make some free throws to give us the win. If they were just going to keep fouling me, I felt like I had to knock them down.”

Muskegon maintained its perfect record of 9-0 overall and 6-0 in conference play while the Rockets fell to 7-3 and 4-2.

Muskegon’s Jordan Briggs tries to drive past Reeths-Puffer defenders. Photo/Jeremy Clark

While his team got the win, Muskegon Coach Keith Guy was not humored by the free throw struggles.

“We got to the line 33 times. which means we were attacking the basket, but we were awful,” Guy said. “Our focus was not there tonight. We have too many good shooters on this team to go 17-for-33 from the line.”

The victory allowed Muskegon to open a two-game lead in the conference standings over the second-place Rockets.

“We knew this game was big, and if we could win this game, this would give us a two-game cushion,” Guy said. “We really, really prepared, and I don’t know if our guys knew what was at stake. We tried to do a good job of telling them, but we didn’t play like it.”

Reeths-Puffer jumped out to an early advantage in the first quarter, taking a 7-4 lead in the first four minutes. The Big Reds fought back, outscoring the Rockets 10-2 over the rest of the quarter, with Biggs scoring five.

Reeths-Puffer’s Travis Ambrose battles toward the hoop against Muskegon defender Terrance Davis. Photo/Jeremy Clark

Muskegon maintained the lead through the second quarter, but Travis Ambrose and Clyde Bartee kept the Rockets in striking distance, scoring nine and five points respectively. The two matched the Big Reds point for point, and Muskegon led 28-23 at halftime.

The Big Reds jumped ahead of the Rockets 37-30 about five minutes into the second half. Reeths-Puffer battled back to within two points, then Muskegon’s Anthony Sydnor III hit a bucket with five seconds left to put the Big Reds ahead 39-35 heading into the fourth.

Scoring went back and forth in the fourth quarter. With four minutes left in the game, the Big Reds led 45-39.

The Rockets began fouling the Big Reds at that point, sending them to the line for 24 free throws. Muskegon started by hitting only 6 of 14 until Biggs scored his seven free throws in the final 1:20.

R-P’s Clyde Bartee rises over the defense as he goes for a layup. Photo/Jeremy Clark

Ambrose scored seven points for Reeths-Puffer in the fourth quarter, but the Big Reds outscored the Rockets 16-12 to take the win.

Biggs scored 17 points, including nine free throws, to lead Muskegon. Sydnor totaled 11 points and Terrance Davis scored nine.

Ambrose had a double-double for the Rockets, scoring 20 points and snagging 12 rebounds, while Logan Brooks added 10 points.

“I thought (Reeths-Puffer coach Nate Aardema) had his guys ready to play and we were a little flat,” Guy said. “I didn’t think we played our best tonight, but we’re not going to be everyone by 40. I was more happy with how we found a way to win even though we didn’t play well.”