ST. CLAIR - The intensity in the St. Clair gym was palpable.
The noise and energy gave the St. Clair boys basketball team an impressive home court advantage Thursday in its game against Macomb Area Conference Gold Division leader New Haven.
But the Rockets are ranked No. 3 in Class B for a reason. Their offense is explosive and their defense is suffocating. Those two factors combined Thursday to propel New Haven to a 70-44 victory over St. Clair.
"It's tough when you go up against a 6-foot-6 phenom freshman that's blocking you or a 6-foot-11 guy," St. Clair sophomore Ben Davidson said after leading the Saints with 10 points. Their defense is the best I've ever seen by a high school team. They are crazy athletic. They probably have 25 or 30 steals a game. It's hard to beat.
Cameron Parslow added eight points for St. Clair. Five players scored in double figures for New Haven, led by Alante Stevens, who scored 19 points. Former St. Clair player Eric Williams added 11 points, 10 assists and five steals for the Rockets.
"We prepared for this atmosphere," Williams said. "We had to keep our composure and I thought we did well. We just knew they coudn't dribble that well. They said they would come out as pit bulls. But I think we were the ones that came out as pit bulls and competed out there.
"It feels good to win because everyone is talking and you just have to respond."
The Rockets (8-0, 13-1) remained undefeated in the MAC Gold Division with the win. New Haven led from start to finish and never allowed St. Clair to get into a rhythm. But that didn't stop the Saints (6-2, 9-4) from putting forth their best effort.
Despite trailing 19-2 early in the first quarter, the Saints battled back and were still in the game in the second half. But they would never pull closer than 13 points and the Rockets had enough left to hold them at bay.
"It's always tough to come here and play," New Haven coach Tedaro France said. "To come here, we have to have great team defense. The kids know if they don’t play defense they won't play for me.
"The game plan was to take (Davidson) away. He's a great young player. Taking the ball out of his hands was important."
After falling behind 9-2 early in the game, the Rockets went on a 10-0 run to lead 19-2 and put tremendous pressure on the Saints. But St. Clair went on a 5-0 run late in the first quarter to pull closer and trailed 24-10 entering the second quarter.
St. Clair continued to settle in as the second quarter began. But each time they appeared to capture the momentum, New Haven would answer with a big play. That allowed the Rockets to take a 33-15 lead into halftime.
The Saints were at their best in the third quarter. St. Clair pulled within 13 points and stayed there for most of the quarter. But New Haven went on a surge late in the quarter and led St. Clair 45-29 entering the fourth quarter.
During the first five minutes of the final quarter, the Rockets began to pull away. They went on a torrid 21-4 run to blow the game open and then took their starters out with just over three minutes to play and with a 66-33 lead.
St. Clair will return on Feb. 9 at Sterling Heights.
"The end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth quarter hurt us," St. Clair coach Shawn Sharrow said. "Also at the beginning of the game we spotted them and it was 19-2 out of the gates. We panicked a little bit. But we got back into the game. Then at the start of the fourth quarter they switched presses and went to a zone press and we didn't respond.
"We hung around though. I was proud of our kids effort. This is my ninth year and it was one of the more electric games. It was a buzz here at tip-off. It’s a tribute to how our kids have been playing. I feel like we have the community behind us."
Contact Joseph Hayes at (810) 989-6268 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter @Joseph_Hayes11. Listen to him every weekday from 4-8 p.m. on 88.3 FM.