- By Kevin Lozon, firstname.lastname@example.org,
However, that’s where the Rockets were Thursday night against host Chippewa Valley in the quarterfinals of the MAC Red/White Division basketball tournament.
Chippewa Valley led 40-39 after three quarters, but the Rockets took their game to another level in the final eight minutes, going on a 27-12 run, coasting to a 66-52 victory.
“This is what we need,” New Haven coach Tedaro France II said. “I love this tournament because it’s a playoff feel. It gives us some playoff games before the real playoffs start. It was a slow start for us tonight, but we picked it up in the fourth quarter.”
The Rockets led 29-21 at halftime, before Chippewa Valley’s Myren Harris went off in the third quarter, scoring 16 straight points in a 19-10 Big Red run, putting his team up by a point heading into the final period.
New Haven, though, opened the fourth quarter with a 13-3 run, including six points by Ronald Jeffery III, and back-to-back dunks by Romeo Weems, the second slam putting the Rockets up 53-43 with 5:54 to play.
“We were stagnant the whole game and weren’t playing the way we like to play, especially on the defensive end,” France said. “We’re supposed to set the tone defensively and our offense comes off our defense.”
After a layup by Chippewa Valley’s Corey McCray cut the gap to 53-45, the Rockets answered with triples from Trenell Payne and Weems, pushing the lead to 59-45, and cruising from there to the end.
“Give New Haven credit because they stepped up in the fourth quarter and I don’t know if we were fatigued or not, playing just six guys, but we didn’t meet the challenge,” Chippewa Valley coach Kevin Voss said. “They have an elite player in Weems and a lineup of very good players.
“We made mistakes in the fourth quarter,” Voss added. “We have to share the ball and get other people baskets and we didn’t do that tonight down the stretch.”
Jeffery led New Haven with 18 points, while Weems added 17 points, and Payne finished with 14 points.
“(Jeffery) has been having a great year for us,” France said. “He’s a four-year starter and he’s gotten better each year. Now he’s getting better each day. He’s a hard-working kid who is great to coach.”
The win improved New Haven’s record to 16-1 overall, and moved the Rockets into the semifinals where they will face host Stevenson on Feb. 12.
“We want to play the best and we strive for that,” France said. “Sometimes you can’t practice game situations. We didn’t play great today, but we stepped up in the fourth quarter. Defense got the job done.”