By Chuck Klonke
Special to The Macomb Daily
It takes the little things to win important basketball games.
It certainly doesn’t hurt, however, to have a big game from a key player.
New Haven had both Thursday night as the Rockets beat Macomb Area Conference Gold Division leader Mount Clemens 65-59 in a game that had more swings than an elementary school playground.
The big game came from junior guard Rayshawn Griffin who scored a career-high 41 points, including New Haven’s first 20 of the second half. Griffin made seven 3-point baskets.
Griffin’s career game came on the same court where his father, George, played two decades ago.
“This was my dad’s high school,” Griffin said. “Everybody here knows him. I had a lot of family here. I had to step up and play.”
New Haven coach Tedaro France wasn’t surprised by Griffin’s breakout performance.
“Rayshawn could always score,” France said. “This year he’s learning the game. He’s a prolific scorer, but he plays defense. The last three games he put this team on his back. He’s scored a lot of points, but he’s playing lights-out on the other end, too.
“He understands the parts of the game like making assists and coming off screens. It’s so good to see him mature so fast and he’s still so young. He’s in his own little world right now and it all starts with his defense.”
Griffin didn’t come into the game with the idea of scoring nearly two-thirds of the Rockets’ points.
“I just let the game come to me,” he said. “(The coaches) said if we need you, step it up -- and I did.”
Griffin said he had no choice but to become a solid defensive player.
“I have to,” he said. “That’s what makes my game better. I have a coach that inspires me to play defense. That’s what it’s all about. That’s what wins championships.”
That also means doing the little things. France said that was the difference between Thursday’s game and their first meeting of the year which resulted in a 57-53 victory for the Bathers.
“We haven’t beaten Mount Clemens in five years,” France said. “These kids have worked so hard. They kept fighting. We lost at home the first time, watched it on film and they took it to heart. We felt we didn’t do the small things to win. Tonight we did those small things and won the game.
“Mount Clemens is a good team, a well-coached team, but we wanted this badly. We’re 8-1 on the road this year. That’s tough to do. It shows what kind of team we are and how much these kids prepare to get ready to play.
“When we played them last time we couldn’t make our free throws. We had our worst night shooting and we still had a chance to win. They made the small plays and we didn’t. They made the hustle plays. We talked before the game that to win this one we had to make the hustle plays. Tonight we did that.”
Bathers coach Kurt Wilson had few complaints about the way his team played. He preferred to give the credit to New Haven and Griffin.
“Griffin shot the ball extremely well,” Wilson said. “That’s the most anyone has scored against us since I’ve been coaching here. They were a good team tonight. Hats off to New Haven. They did a great job. They deserved it.”
The Rockets led 13-8 after the first quarter, then used a 12-0 run early in the second quarter to go up 28-11 on a 3-pointer by Griffin, who had 10 points in the surge.
Mount Clemens tightened up defensively late in the half. The Bathers’ trapping defense forced some turnovers that led to a 10-0 spurt of their own to close the gap to 32-27 at halftime.
“All year teams have had difficulty with our trap,” Wilson said. “It didn’t really bother me when we got down. Our team always has fight and we made a good push toward halftime and carried it over to the second half when we got the lead.”
Mount Clemens scored the first 10 points of the second half, sparked by Jeremy Landers, who had eight of the points, including a pair of triples. Then some halftime adjustments by the Rockets began to pay off.
“We kind of rushed it when they were trapping our guys,” France said. “We told them to calm down and be strong with the ball. Make good passes. Sometimes guys will sit in the corners and wait. We wanted them to stay active and move and take care of the ball.”
The lead changed hands three more times before Griffin hit a 3-pointer with 48 second left in the third quarter to put the Rockets ahead to stay. New Haven stretched its lead to 10 points midway through the final quarter but the Bathers got within three on a pair of free throws by Landers with 48 seconds remaining.
Landers came within a whisker of tying the game. His 3-point attempt went halfway into the basket and spun out with about 40 seconds to go.
Griffin and Vantrell Williams each split a pair of free throws and Griffin scored on a layup after a blocked shot by Sychar Sterling to secure New Haven’s sixth win in eight league games.
Griffin said his confidence never wavered when New Haven’s 17-point lead evaporated.
“I was still confident, for sure,” he said. “I knew my team was ready to play. We were prepared. I had an awesome feeling that we’d come back.”
Jamael Bell scored 10 points and had 10 rebounds for the Rockets.
Landers led Mount Clemens in scoring with 18 points, Xavier Holmes had 13 and T’Arayle Cates added 11. Jon Williams grabbed eight rebounds.
“I give my kids a lot of credit,” Wilson said. “Not one of them played varsity ball last year and our point guard is a sophomore -- and we’re still in the thick of it.
“The MAC Gold is tough from top to bottom. When you come into the MAC Gold you have a lot of sleepless nights.”
There might be a few of those for France next week because New Haven has to play Sterling Heights and St. Clair, the two teams that came into Thursday tied with the Rockets for second place in the division.
“We’ll enjoy this for the rest of the night, then come right back to work tomorrow,” France said.
New Haven 13 19 12 21 -- 65
Mount Clemens 8 19 16 16 -- 59
NEW HAVEN(11-2, 6-2): Rayshawn Griffin 41, Sychar Sterling 2, Jamael Bell 10, Vantrell Williams 8, Rico Cook 2, Roemello Moore 2. Totals: 21 (8) 15-26--65.
MOUNT CLEMENS (10-4, 5-2): Antoine Smith 3, De’Andre Young 4, Xavier Holmes 13, Jon Williams 2, T’Arayle Cates 11, Eric Rice 6, Jeremy Landers 18, Demell Moorer 2. Totals: 23 (8) 5-11--59.