By Tom Watts
OXFORD – New Haven was looking to play its best game of the year on Friday while also hoping to find role players who can contribute off the bench this season.
Rayshawn Griffin and Jamael Bell scored 21 points each and Mike Kincaid came off the bench to provide a spark as the Rockets cruised to a 70-45 victory over Imlay City in the Oxford Holiday Classic championship game.
“It wasn’t our best game but the intensity was there,” New Haven coach Tedaro France II said Friday. “Effort was there tonight. Defensively, that’s what we do. If you can’t play defense you won’t play here. I think these kids have bought into that. Our defense helps wins games and we have to take great pride in that.”
The Rockets improved to 4-0. Imlay City fell to 3-3.
Griffin, a senior guard, also had seven rebounds and five steals, while Bell, a 6-foot-4 senior forward, grabbed a game-high 15 rebounds and five steals.
Senior 6-foot-4 forward Sychar Sterling had a terrific game with 12 points and 10 rebounds for the ball-hawking defensive-minded Rockets.
“We wanted to stay intense for four quarters,” France said. “We went back and watched film this (Friday) morning and kids said we didn’t play well. Tonight they came out here and played the way we can. Now we have to play consistent.”
France also was beaming about Mike Kincaid, a junior guard, who had seven points and caused havoc for Imlay City with his defensive skills.
“Rayshawn and Jamael stepped up big tonight, but Mike Kincaid showed spurts throughout the game,” France said. “We wanted to play him. Tonight he showed he can help us out and play a key role. You have to have good depth. He showed he can be a great asset.”
Two Griffin free throws notched the lead up to 21 points midway through the third quarter at 46-25; then Kincaid came off the bench to knock down a jumper that gave the Rockets its biggest lead of the game, 55-29.
“I feel like we can get better every day,” said Kincaid, who hit a nice 3-pointer for the Rockets. “I push the starters in practice, and I know my team has confidence in me. If I push my teammates hard then we’re going to keep getting better.”
New Haven led 58-31 entering the final quarter, but France continued to keep his players from letting up and urged them on to play hard for four quarters.
The game’s best action took place in the first half. Rico Cook knocked down a pair of 3-pointers in the second quarter, including a dagger at the halftime buzzer that gave New Haven a 36-21 bulge.
Kincaid came in and helped break open a close game with his tenacious defense and fast-break offense; and Bell’s steal and thunderous dunk ignited the Rockets to a 25-19 lead.
“We knew going in that we would have to take care of the ball,” Imlay City coach Don Gauthier said Friday. “They’re a good basketball team. They went on that run in the second quarter and it seemed like it never ended.”
While Coach France was preaching defense during timeouts, the Rockets exploded on offense. A technical foul call against New Haven for “arguing a call” seemed to spur on the Rockets. Imlay City trimmed the lead to 20-19 on the ensuing free throws and ball possession, but that’s when New Haven took control.
Early in the second quarter with New Haven leading 18-15, Imlay City’s Robert Bell, a 6-foot-6 senior, blocked his third and fourth shots to keep the Rockets thinking twice about going inside. But that was the only spark Imlay City would muster.
The Rockets trailed 15-14 but were fueled by sophomore John Galloway, who came in off the bench to end the first quarter and help give the Rockets a 16-15 lead after one.
Early in the first quarter, back-to-back blocks from Bell got Imlay City’s crowd into the game. But back-to-back easy buckets by Sterling put the Rockets on top12-9.
New Haven trailed 7-4 early, but the Rockets’ 2-3 rotating zone-defense gave Imlay City fits. Tedaro France III, the coach’s son, found Griffin for a layup to give New Haven an 8-7 lead with 3:32 left in the first.
New Haven 16 20 22 12 -- 70
Imlay City 15 6 10 14 -- 45
NEW HAVEN (4-0): Rico Cook 6, Rayshawn Griffin 21, Mike Kincaid 7, Sychar Sterling 12, Jamael Bell 21, Brandon Shacklett 3. Totals: 23 (4) 12-15 70.
IMLAY CITY (2-2): Robert Bell 4, Chase McLendon 2, Anthony Howard 21, Wyatt Bammist 4, Mike Daws 2, Austin Cuthbertson 2, Tyler Spuella 2, Bryar Alexander 5, Joe Lesniak 3. Totals: 15 (3