By Bill Roose
For a game that was tied nine times and featured 12 leads changes and three buzzer-beating shots, it wound up being an easy win for the New Haven boys basketball team.
Eric Williams, Jr. scored 22 of his game-high 39 points in the second half, and freshman Romeo Weems posted a triple double to help New Haven out-punch South Lake in the championship game of the third annual Rockets Holiday Classic.
The game was tied at the end of each of the first three quarters, but the Rockets (3-1) turned up the heat, outscoring the visiting Cavaliers, 26-11, in the final eight minutes, en route to a 74-59 victory on Tuesday night.
The Rockets have won their holiday tournament all three times.
“We’re a team that’s young, we’re learning,” New Haven coach Tedaro France said. “I like these games because you can’t teach experience; they just have to play through it. The game was back and forth, but when we got to the fourth quarter the kids stepped up and they found a way to win.”
The teams were tied 15-15 at the end of the first quarter when Williams’ transition layup after a steal in the backcourt beat the buzzer.
It appeared that the Rockets would take a three-point lead into intermission, but Cavaliers guard Zivan Shackleford (10 points) drained a dramatic shot from a step behind halftime to even the score at 32-32 as the horn sounded.
The fourth quarter began tied, 48-48, when South Lake’s A.J. Morgan (18 points) drilled a three-pointer from the corner as the buzzer went.
“Two big plays to tie the game up, but we always say ‘let’s learn but don’t dwell’,” France said. “We never want to give up the last shot because to me, momentum is everything. I thought the first three minutes of the second half were key. We got the momentum, but it shifted again. But we stayed composed down the stretch. There were times that we could have broken down, but we stayed composed.”
Trailing 51-50 early in the final quarter, the Rockets used an 11-0 run to build a 61-51 edge, which, at the time, was the widest margin of the game.
South Lake was limited to three field goals in the fourth.
Weems, the Rockets’ 6-foot-6 swingman, finished with 10 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists.