The basketball went out of bounds, it belonged to Detroit Country Day, and Tedaro France looked the other way.
“I turned my back,” the New Haven boys coach said. “I was looking at the other end of the court, at how our defense was setting up.”
The ball never got to the Country Day forecourt.
As a Yellowjacket made a pass inbounds, Romeo Weems slithered between the ball and its intended target.
The 6-foot-7 junior’s steal and subsequent basket gave New Haven an 83-73 lead with 1:39 left in the fourth quarter, and the Rockets, who had suddenly looked wobbly after leading by 22 points in the third quarter, stopped a Country Day surge on the way to a 92-74 victory in a Class B regional championship game.
“That kind of shifted the momentum,” France said following the March 14 game. “It was a huge play by a smart player.”
New Haven’s fourth consecutive regional championship was the product of heady, clutch plays by Weems and his supporting cast against a young but gritty team from the Beverly Hills school.
That’s what the Rockets have come to expect on a journey they hope takes them to a second consecutive state championship.
“Guys stepped up and made plays,” France said after New Haven pushed its winning streak to 51 games. “These kids have stayed together. They don’t care who’s scoring points. We take it one day at a time.”
Detroit Country Day, winner of nine state championships, refused to wilt after New Haven’s 27-11 second quarter left the Rockets with a 51-33 halftime lead.
“The farther we go, the harder the teams are to play,” senior guard Tavares Oliver Jr. said.
New Haven takes a 25-0 record against Bridgeport (24-1) in a state quarterfinal game that starts at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Corunna.
The Bearcats, led by 6-3 Charles Garrett, who averages 20.1 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, won the Tri-Valley Conference championship.
Their season resume includes a regular-season victory over Flint Beecher (a team New Haven also defeated) and a regional-final triumph over Flint Powers Catholic.
Markele Garrett averages 13.8 points and 6-5 SirQuarius Ball scores 16.9 points and grabs 7.9 rebounds for the school that’s located near Frankenmuth.
New Haven got key contributions from several players against Country Day.
Ronald Jeffery III scored 22 points; Oliver and Weems had 19 apiece, and Ashton Sherrell 17. Weems posted a quadruple double that included 16 rebounds, 12 assists and 10 steals. He also had seven blocked shots.
Ascaun Johnson played significant minutes after Sherrell got into foul trouble.
Seldom-used guard De’Von Hicks and forward Malen Lewis had an assist apiece while they played because fouls piled up on teammates.
That pleased France.
“We always tell the kids, ‘Be great at your role. When your number is called, step in. You might not get a stat, but you’ve got to do your job,’” France said.
Four Rockets have double-figure scoring averages.
Weems, the target of an intense national recruiting derby, is a primary reason for that, France said.
“He makes everyone around him better,” France said. “He can pass the ball so well. His presence, the stuff he does, is impressive. Kids love to play with him because he gets kids involved.
“He defends, too. And as hard as he plays in the games, he plays that hard each day in practice.”
The winner of the New Haven-Bridgeport game plays the winner of the Grand Rapids Catholic Central-Boyne City quarterfinal in a state semifinal at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Breslin Center. GRCC and Boyne City play at Big Rapids.
In the other quarterfinals, Benton Harbor takes on Williamston at Ionia, and Dearborn Divine Child plays River Rouge at Chelsea. Winners of those games play at 5:30 p.m. Friday at the Breslin Center.
CLASS A: De La Salle tries to break losing streak against U-D Jesuit.