By George Pohly
@GPohly on Twitter
EAST LANSING >> If Tedaro France has said it once, he has said it 1,000 times.
“The kids know that if they want to play for me, they have to play defense.”
The New Haven Rockets took their coach’s mantra to heart in the fourth quarter of the state Class B boys basketball championship game.
New Haven held Ludington to no points in the first 6:30 of the quarter and allowed six points total in the period as the Rockets ran from a one-point lead to a 45-36 victory over the Orioles at the Breslin Center on Saturday night.
“They’re long, athletic and they make it hard to finish,” Ludington coach Thad Shank said. “They play above the rim. It’s obvious that’s going to have an effect when you go up against them.
“You’re not going to win a state championship game scoring 36 points.”
Until the fourth quarter, Ludington challenged the Rockets with a patient offense and zone defense.
“The game was where we wanted it to be,” Shank said.
But New Haven (27-1) went to a press trap and pulled away in the fourth quarter to its 26th consecutive victory and the second state championship won by a Macomb County boys team.
“They alter things on the floor,” Shank said. “I attribute (Ludington’s problems) to a state championship team.
“They guard and they made it hard for us to score.”
Ludington didn’t score until Calvin Hackert sank a 3-point shot from the right corner with 1:30 left in the game.
By then, the Rockets had gone on a 12-0 run for a 43-30 lead, and green-clad New Haven fans at Michigan State University were in a partying mood.
New Haven shot well in its semifinal victory over Benton Harbor on Friday. But shots didn’t fall as freely against the Orioles.
“We had to find a spark somewhere,” New Haven coach Tedaro France II said.
The spark came from the defense.
“Our defensive intensity picked up,” France said.
Hackert led Ludington (25-3) with 16 points.
New Haven became the second county boys team to win a state championship and the first since Lake Shore won the Class B crown in 1994.
New Haven sophomore Romeo Weems scored five of his game-high 19 points in the fourth quarter.
New Haven led 31-30 after three quarters. The Rockets had a 29-26 lead after Weems scored off a pass from A.J. Crawford, but the Orioles battled back behind Hackert, whose two free throws late in the quarter gave him 10 points and cut the New Haven lead to one.
Williams made three free throws after he was fouled attempting a 3-pointer with no time left on the clock, and New Haven carried a 23-19 lead into the intermission.
The first half featured 10 lead changes, and the score was tied three times.
Ludington’s spread offense contributed to the Orioles’ 11-7 lead by the end of the first quarter.
Sam LaDuke scored the final six points of the quarter, including four on free throws, as the patient Orioles worked the ball against the New Haven defense.