Anchor Bay had been a pretty hot team going into its game against New Haven on Thursday night.
The Tars started strong and it looked like they had things well in hand. Actually, they did until the final two minutes of the game.
That’s when the Rockets’ rousing comeback – sparked by sticky defense and aggressive offense – paid fruition.
New Haven, which trailed 35-16 at halftime, completed the long trek back to beat host Anchor Bay 57-56. The Rockets outscored the Tars 23-11 in the third quarter to get back into the game at 46-39.
After Anchor Bay built up a nine-point lead, 50-41, New Haven outscored the Tars 15-6 to draw even at 56-56 with 2:01 left in the fourth. Anchor Bay missed two free throws, got the rebound and missed a shot from the field.
Sychar Sterling hit one free throw with nine seconds to play to give New Haven a 57-56 lead. Anchor Bay called time out with 3.4 seconds to play. The Tars got the ball in the hands of Tino DeJesus, who beat Madison earlier in the week on a desperation shot from half court. This time, DeJesus couldn’t get everything behind his shot and it was short.
In all, New Haven outscored Anchor Bay 41-21 in the second half.
“We knew we had to come out and play hard,” New Haven guard Daniel Walker said. “We were not doing the little things that coach always tells us to do. We came into the second half on fire; we played hard and got back in the game.”
New Haven Coach Tedaro France was in plenty of close games in the ’90s when he starred for one of the better teams to wear Rockets uniforms. As a coach, France recognized that old fulfilled feeling culled only from a hard-earned victory.
“It’s one of my best games here, to see us down so big and make a comeback and play big,” said France, who lost several players from last season’s very strong team. “I told them at halftime, trust in what we do. We fought back and stayed strong. So many times in that game we could have quit and we didn’t.”
France knew the Tars were coming off big wins against Eisenhower and Madison.
“We came out flat, then we started to force some shots,” France said “They came out with great fire. I told my team at halftime: they boxed out, they got the loose balls. We were taking one shot and we were done. We went away from what we do.”
France believes it is wins like Thursday’s that will show his inexperienced players what effort can produce.
“It just shows the growth. We’re a young team,” he said. “It’s a great game for us for next week (district play), showing that if we get down there’s always a chance we can come back if we keep playing hard, trusting the coaching staff and each other.
“I’ve got to take my hat off to my kids. They never quit when this team came out, made some shots, got up big, but we kept fighting.”
There is always another side, and for Anchor Bay Coach Bob Jolet, it was a game that will be hard to put in the past. Jolet felt that it was New Haven’s defense that keyed its comeback.
“Full-court pressure in our face,” Jolet said. “I had the bench in there and they didn’t know how to handle it.”
Jolet had to turn to his reserves because of foul trouble.“You lose three of your starters early in the fourth and that’s tough,” he said. “I don’t like to use officials as an excuse. (New Haven) is a very good basketball team. They’ll play hard.”
Jolet felt that despite blowing the big lead, the Tars had chances to pull the game out.
“Free throws and fouls,” he said. “Those two things, they took us away from having a shot.”
That was fine with Walker, who was playing his final regular season game in a Rockets’ uniform.
“I didn’t want to lose,” he said. “This is my senior year and I wanted to go out with a bang and win this last game.”