By Chuck Pleiness
New Haven boys basketball coach Tedaro France II knew a 14-day break between games would hurt his team offensively.
But it didn’t stop the Rockets from doing what they do best … play defense.
“I knew it was going to take some time for our offense so we had to come out and set the tempo on the defensive side of the ball,” France said after his squad’s 70-44 win over Lutheran North in a Class B district semifinal Wednesday. “When you take that many days off, with the way the schedule was this year, we were idle for 14 days which is always tough.
“I want to teach our kids that we can score off our defense,” France continued. “Just keep playing defense and you can stay in games by just being solid there.”
One kid that wasn’t affected by the break offensive was Alante Stevens, who tossed in 11 of his 13 points in a second quarter that saw the Rockets (19-2) pull away from the Mustangs (13-9).
“He’s been doing that the whole year,” France said. “Teams are focused on other players and he has been hurting teams a lot. You kind of have to pick and choose who you’re going to take away. He’s been making shots the whole year.”
Eric Williams Jr. tossed in 16 points to go with five steals and Tavares Oliver added 10.
Jerry Ben grabbed 11 rebounds, while Innocent Nwoko took down 10 rebounds and Romeo Weems finished with 10 rebounds, 10 assists, four blocks and four steals.
“We tried to take away their inside game, which I thought we did well and if you’re going to do that you’re going to give up some outside shots,” Mustangs coach Kevin Murawski said. “We were hoping they wouldn’t make that many and they made them. That’s why they’re predicted to go to the Final Four.
“Where we’ve had success our guards have gotten by defenders, but not many teams have guys that can clean it up in the back like they do,” Murawski continued. “Even when we did get past their defenders it was getting blocked and it was hard to finish. We were off tonight and we knew going in we’d have to play really well to get it. We didn’t play as good as we needed to win and they played better than we thought they would.”
Drew Arft led Lutheran North with 11 points, while Jack Hilt grabbed eight rebounds and Michael Barno took down seven boards. Elijah Thaut totaled four assists.
“This is a high scoring team and they’ve got a couple kids that can play,” France said. “They can shoot the ball so our focus coming in was taking away their clean looks. I think we rotated well.”