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Rockets will face Michigan Collegiate in Tuesday's final
It's been taking New Haven's defense a while to kick into gear.
Once it does, however, there's no stopping the Rockets.
"They know that if they get down they won't panic," coach Tedaro France II said Monday after unbeaten New Haven earned a spot in the championship game of the second Rocket Holiday Classic with an 81-41 victory against Richmond.
"Defense will win us games. We're not playing great basketball right now but the effort is there. We're playing hard. The more we play, we'll get those small things fixed. I tell them, 'if you make a mistake, make it at full speed.' We've been making a ton of mistakes but at the same time we force the other team to make mistakes. I see a lot of good that we're doing."
New Haven will meet Michigan Collegiate, which overcame a 16-point second half deficit to beat Mount Clemens 67-64 in overtime, in the championship game Tuesday at 6 p.m.
Richmond scored the first 10 points of the game and led 14-2 after a putback by Brad Pedri with 1:45 left in the first quarter. That''s when France called a timeout and reminded the Rockets that defense has been the team's trademark for several years.
"If we can fight back from 12 or 14 or 18 points and win it shows our character," France said. "The kids know that if we play great team defense we can get back into every game no matter how much we're down.
"Richmond came out and made some shots and we struggled making shots. Josh (new coach Josh Presnell) is doing a great job with them. They want to get out and run and they have some guys who can do it, but we go nine deep and if teams want to play that style they have to be in great shape to do it."
It didn't take long for New Haven to make the Blue Devils' lead disappear. After Richmond went ahead 19-10 on a basket by Pedri with 6:33 left in the first half, the Blue Devils didn't get another field goal until 34 seconds remained in the third quarter. By that time, the Rockets' lead had grown to 63-27.
"They have a good team," Presnell said. "No. 32 (Dmonta Harris) is a heck of a player. They'll make some noise in their league (MAC Gold) and in the tournament as well.
"We left a lot of layups out there. In the first half we missed 15. That's 30 points. (New Haven) turned it up defensively in the second half as well. It's a learning experience for us. We came here because we think we can make a run in our league (Blue Water Area Conference) and we knew we'd get some good competition."
Dmonta Harris, who made a three-point play to trigger the Rockets' 22-5 run to end the first half, finished with 29 points and 15 rebounds. He had 10 of the 22 points in that surge.
"He's strong and tough," France said. "He's a great scorer but he loves to play defense. He's a two guard and he rebounds like a post player. He doesn't know how good he can be. He's just a great kid."
Josh Harris had 10 points and 10 rebounds for New Haven and Austin Sherrell scored 11 points. Marquis Perkins had nine points and nine assists.
Dillon McInerney led Richmond with 13 points. Jake Schmidt pulled down 12 rebounds for the Blue Devils, who fell to 2-1.
Last Updated: 12/29/2014 11:12:13 PM EST