LEROY — It was not quite the way the Pine River Bucks had hoped to open their Highland Conference schedule last week.

The Bucks entered January with a 3-0 overall record. But they opened their Highland Conference schedule with losses to Manton (Jan. 6) and McBain on Friday.

In the 64-45 loss to McBain, the Bucks started out promising with a 14-5 lead after the first quarter and 20-15 at halftime. But then the Ramblers exploded for 49 points in the second half with a 30-10 scoring edge over Pine River in the third quarter and 19-15 in the fourth.

“It’s the second game in a row we’ve shot 28 percent from the field,” Pine River coach Brian Goodenow said, adding that the 30 points in the third period is, “I’m pretty sure the most points we’ve given up in the two-plus seasons I’ve been on board.”

Mitchell McDonald scored 12 points for the Bucks followed by Lucas Harris with 10 points. McDonald and Harris had nine and six rebounds respectively, Brandon Fulks had four assists.

“It starts with rebounding,” Goodenow said. “We can’t figure out how to teach these guys how to rebound. McBain got some easy baskets on us. If you’re going to shoot that poor of a percentage, you’d better be able to rebound. We failed to do that.”

Pine River lost its first game of the season with a 60-51 verdict to Manton on Jan. 6. Manton was up 17-7 after the first quarter, 28-22 at halftime and 39-33 after the third quarter. Manton had a 21-18 scoring advantage in the fourth quarter.

“That was a lot grittier game,” Goodenow said. “It was close most of the way. We were right there. But we shot 28 percent in that one as well. We shot poorly from the field, we shot poorly from the free-throw line and we got killed on the boards. If we would have cleaned up one of those three things, we would have won that game.

“Friday night, it was the same thing. Our effort was there. The execution on defense just wasn’t what it should be. We’re settling a little bit for shots instead of being patient and getting a good shot.”

McDonald scored 22 points for Big Rapids while Harris had 12 points. McDonald had six rebounds and Greg Park four. Fulks and Mason Powell had three assists apiece.

The Bucks were slated to be at Traverse City St. Francis Tuesday and will be at Marion Thursday.

“We’ll get out our shootaway gun which we use sometimes in practice,” Goodenow said. “We’ll let all of the guys get a lot of reps on their shot. I truly believe it’s 90 percent mental for most of them. But you have to see your shots go in to get that rhythm again.”