Lieuwen, Bay Port beat Stevens Point in opener
By Greg Bates
SUAMICO — Last season as a sophomore, AJ Lieuwen wasn’t relied on to be a leader.
There were plenty of upperclassmen to fill that role on the Bay Port boys’ basketball team.
But with some key seniors gone, Lieuwen — who is one of two starters back from a season ago — knows his responsibilities have changed this year.
Lieuwen was thrust into a leadership position in the first game Saturday night.
With Bay Port trailing by four points to Stevens Point and 3½ minutes remaining, Lieuwen came up clutch.
He converted a 3-pointer, a fastbreak layup and drained all eight of his free throws — scoring 13 of his team’s final 15 points — as Bay Port beat Stevens Point 74-71 in nonconference play.
Bay Port has now won all five of the meetings between the two teams in the last six years.
“We’ve got lots of room for improvement, but it’s good to get a win and make those improvements instead of losing and make those improvements,” Bay Port Head Coach Nate Rykal said.
Lieuwen scored 22 of his career-high 24 points in the second half.
Bay Port trailed by one point at halftime with its top scorer not hitting a field goal.
“In the first half, we didn’t play up to our potential,” Lieuwen said. “But the second half, I’m proud of how we stuck together. We were solid down the stretch.”
Lieuwen didn’t make his first field goal of the night until 19½ minutes into the game.
“It got me going,” Lieuwen said. “Once you get that first one, you see it and you play it how it goes, how you’re feeling. It helps if it goes in during the first half but play with what you have.”
Rykal said he liked what he saw from his veteran guard, especially at the free-throw line down the stretch.
“Making free throws helps you get into a groove,” he said. “He was struggling with his shot early. I think he missed his first five or six shots but went on a roll after that.”
Lieuwen and senior forward Nate Forystek, who had 11 points and six rebounds, are the only two starters back from last season.
Junior Vince Vandervest was the sixth man a year ago, and he also stepped up in the opener with 16 points.
“(Vandervest) was good tonight,” Rykal said. “He was 7-for-10 (from the field). He was solid and got us going. He kept us in the game early.”
Playing in their first varsity games, Rykal said he was impressed with junior Jayden Hackett (seven points, a pair of 3-pointers and six rebounds) and sophomore Blake Buchinger (eight points on 4-for-5 shooting).
Bay Port shot 54% (25-for-46) from the field for the game.
It was 18-for-23 from the free-throw line.
Stevens Point hit 45% (27-for-59) of its shots.
It attempted only eight free throws.
In a back and forth first half, Stevens Point (0-1) led 34-33 at the break.
Bay Port (1-0) went on a 15-5 early in the second to make it 49-42.
The Panthers answered with a 10-2 run to go up 57-55 as James Jacobs, who put up a game-high 26 points, hit some big shots.
Stevens Point pushed its lead to 63-59 before Lieuwen drained a 3-pointer with 3:10 remaining on the clock.
Lieuwen converted on a fastbreak layup, and Vandervest connected on a pair of free throws to give Bay Port a 66-65 lead with 1:44 left.
A turnover by Stevens Point on the next possession made the visitors have to play catch up the rest of the game.
Lieuwen was 8-for-8 from the free-throw line in the final 53.3 seconds.
With Bay Port holding a three-point lead with 2.3 seconds remaining, Stevens Point in-bounded the ball for a chance to tie the game.
However, the Panthers turned it over.
Rykal said he liked what he saw from his guys down the stretch for the come-from-behind victory.
“We showed guts to hang in there to make some plays,” he said. “It was toughness to take care of the basketball for one thing, and then after we got the lead, to take care of the basketball and make free throws was the key. We weren’t good defensively — I’ll say that straight out. We’ve got lots of work to do there. Credit to (Stevens Point), too. They’ve got some guys who can take it to the rack – some good athletes.”