By George Pohly
@GPohly on Twitter
Innocent Nwoko and Jerry Ben combined to score 12 points in two regional basketball tournament games last week.
That was OK with New Haven coach Tedaro France.
New Haven posted nail-biting victories over Detroit Country Day and Lake Fenton, and the 6-foot-11 Nwoko and 6-9 Ben figured prominently as the Rockets won a Class B boys regional championship for the second consecutive year.
“They’re great kids,” France said. “They lead us off the court. They’re about more than just scoring points.”
Nwoko and Ben attend Austin, a Catholic school that’s about five miles from New Haven High.
They’ve been members of the Rockets’ varsity due to an agreement between the schools that Austin students could play at New Haven as long as Austin didn’t have a team in a particular sport.
Neither Nwoko nor Ben knew much about basketball – soccer was Nwoko’s sport in his native Nigeria – before they enrolled at Austin.
“When they first came here, they could barely dunk a ball,” France said.
Now they are anchors of a defense that has allowed 48.3 points per game while carrying New Haven to league, district and regional championships.
“Defense is our foundation,” France said. “A lot of kids can come into the gym and score points.
“It takes a kid that’s selfless to sacrifice on defense.”
New Haven plays Detroit Henry Ford at Lake Shore at 7 p.m. Tuesday in a state quarterfinal game.
It’ll be the second consecutive year the Rockets will have met the Trojans in the quarterfinals.
While New Haven naturally hopes for a different outcome after losing to Detroit Ford 61-55 in 2015, one element of the Rockets’ defense won’t change: They’ll rely on their towers in the paint.
“If we get beat (on the dribble), we’ve got guys behind that can protect the rim,” France said, referring to Nwoko, Ben and 6-6 freshman Romeo Weems.
“They might not get blocks, but they change so many shots. Sometimes teams think twice about driving to the hole.”
Division I college recruits Nwoko and Ben have helped New Haven compile a two-year record of 47-3, including back-to-back 12-0 finishes in the Macomb Area Conference Gold Division.
The Rockets didn’t win a MAC Gold championship until last season.
New Haven had never won back-to-back regional crowns until the Rockets edged Lake Fenton 53-50 at Imlay City last week.
Central Michigan recruit Nwoko (10.6 points and 10 rebounds per game) and Ben, who will play at Cornell, deserve special places in Rockets history for being part of those achievements, France said.
“It’s not just their progress as players -- it’s the leadership they’ve given us,” France said.
“They both speak boldly and confidently.”
Detroit Ford has won 12 of its last 14 games and is 17-6 overall.
James Towns, a senior guard, leads the Trojans in scoring with 23 points per game.
The winner of the New Haven-Detroit Ford game plays the winner of the Williamston (20-3) versus River Rouge (22-3) quarterfinal at 6 p.m. Friday at the Breslin Center.
The other Class B quarterfinal pairings are Essexville Garber (17-8) against Big Rapids (22-2) and Stevensville Lakeshore (18-7) versus Hudsonville Unity Christian (16-8).
The state championship game starts at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Breslin Center.
Detroit Ford lost to Wyoming Godwin Heights 85-68 in the 2015 state championship game.
New Haven has never won a state quarterfinal game.