A pair of veterans played key roles Friday in giving New Haven’s young basketball team a chance to claim its 10th straight Rocket Christmas Classic championship.
Brent Wiles scored 22 points and collected 10 rebounds, while Tyree France finished with 12 points and 7 assists to spark the Rockets to a 53-44 victory against Lamphere in a semifinal game.
In the other semifinal, JaVaughn Hannah had a game-high 32 points, including two free throws with 8.6 seconds remaining, to lift Mount Clemens to a 72-71 victory over South Lake and a berth in the championship game against New Haven at 6 p.m. Saturday.
A year ago, Wiles and France had limited roles as the Rockets went undefeated in the Macomb Area Conference White Division and advanced to the state quarterfinals. Now they are the leaders of a young squad that features a pair of freshman starters.
“They’re our captains — great players, great teammates,” said coach Tedaro France II. “They’ve been keeping our ship afloat, being patient with the young guys. They know the plays and the sets and sometimes they have to go slow to teach them.
“The game has slowed down for them. For the others, the game is going 100 miles-per-hour. They’ve been in our program for three or four years, so they can see things before they happen. Their roles have changed. Last year, they played a small role, now they’re thrust into the 1-2 role. Now the team is riding their backs. That can be tough for kids, but they’re taking it in stride. They’re continuing to grow and they’re getting better every day.”
Tyree France scored eight points in the third quarter, including two 3-point baskets, to help New Haven turn a four-point halftime lead into a 10-point advantage with 2 1/2 minutes left in the period. After Lamphere cut the Rockets’ lead to 47-42 on a putback by Joseph McNab with three minutes remaining in the game, Wiles made three straight baskets to extend the New Haven lead to 53-42.
“We’re going to get better the more we play,” Tedaro France said. “They need game repetition. We can run drills in practice, we can watch film, but this group needs experience. It’s gaining the confidence they can play at this level. Here the bar is set so high that kids stress too much. You don’t have to do it all right now. You can get there step by step, brick by brick. Once we get that confidence we’ll be OK.”
Lamphere coach Sam Hines III was pleased with his team’s performance, especially on defense. The Rams are also young with five juniors starting.
“(New Haven) is a team that executes really well,” he said. “Keeping them under 60 (points) is something we talked about. We can look at this as something we accomplished. It’s one day at a time, but I did see some great things defensively.
“The energy was there. They’re trying. They’re competing. That’s all I can ask for.”
McNab and Brady Robinson led Lamphere with 12 points apiece. JaQuan Kincaid had a team-high 12 rebounds for New Haven.
Mount Clemens coach Pete Trammell was happy to see the Bathers get over the hump after losing close games in their first two outings.
“We’re still a young team,” he said. “We’re trying to learn how to close out games. Both games we lost we were ahead 95 percent of the time. When we can close games out, we can beat anybody.”
Closing out the Cavaliers was no easy task. Mount Clemens led 66-55 with about four minutes left in the game, but South Lake went on a 16-4 run to take a 71-70 lead on a putback and a free throw by Kawon Robinson with 19.2 seconds to go.
The Cavaliers missed a chance to extend their lead when they missed the front end of a bonus opportunity at the free-throw line. Mount Clemens got the rebound and Hannah was fouled on the drive to the basket. He sank both free throws to put the Bathers back in front. The Mount Clemens defense tightened and South Lake never got another shot off.
“To come out on top in this fashion is going to go a long way for the rest of our season,” Trammell said. “We still have to get better against the pressure, but this was a good win for us, especially against these guys. I have so much respect for Coach (Kurt) Wilson and Coach (Willie) Betts, both former Mount Clemens head coaches. They’re like family.”
Wilson liked the way South Lake battled from behind.
“This was by far our best game of the year,” he said. “We scored 71 points and we played some defense to stay in the game. We fought. We just did a poor job at the end protecting the court.
“I thought when we had to sub our bigs, (Mount Clemens) did a good job beating us on the boards. When we came back with our rebounders, we did better. At the end of the day we have to take care of the ball. We had one crucial turnover late in the fourth quarter that really mattered.”
Rob Robinson added 14 points for Mount Clemens. Kawon Robinson led the Cavaliers with 24 points and Artez Weathington had 14.
South Lake (1-4): Artez Weathington 14, Jayon Robinson 6, Max Pozios 3, Jeremiah Jolliffi 6, Jason Bourne 7, Tre’Bion Wolf 2, Kawon Robinson 24, Dorian Stevens 6. Totals: 26 (7) 12-20—71
Mount Clemens (1-2): Don Williams 5, JaVaughn Hannah 32, Matthew Coffey 5, Armani Cannon 5, Rob Robinson 14, Tyler Banach 4, Kyree Haye 6, Antonio Doxey 1. Totals: 27 (6) 12-22—72.
Lamphere (1-3): Lenard Nash Jr. 4, Brady Robinson 12, Kayden Whitman 3, Dylan Chargo 5, Joseph McNab 12, Sema-j Ramsey 2, Andre Miller 1, Tristian Gist 5. Totals: 18 (3) 5-11–44
New Haven (2-2): Tyree France 12, Brent Wiles 22, Trevon Jeffery 2, Dezmond Gilleylen 2, Brandon Lisco 9, Ja’me McQueen 4, JaQuan Kincaid 2. Totals: 22 (4) 5-20–53.