BOYS BASKETBALL: Rockets end regional drought in 2OT
New Haven meets Shelby in quarterfinals
By George Pohly
Macomb Daily Sports Editor
VASSAR -- They fuss at each other some of the time, but New Haven coach Tedaro France has Rayshawn Griffin’s back, and the Rockets’ junior knows it.
Griffin, a Macomb County Tier 2 First Team All-Star, shook off a mid-game shooting slump and canned a short jump shot with five seconds left in the second overtime Wednesday night to lift the Rockets to a 59-57 victory over Saginaw Nouvel Catholic and their second regional basketball championship in school history.
Griffin scored the Rockets’ first 10 points of the Class C game at Vassar High, and then scored only six points in the second and third quarters combined, but he was the one France wanted to shoot the basketball with the game on the line.
“Rayshawn has ice in his veins,” France said. “He can miss 12 straight shots, but when the game is on the line, I want the ball in his hands. He’s that type of player. I know he’ll step up and make the plays.
“Tonight he made a big shot that took us somewhere we haven’t been for 22 years.”
The Rockets, who won their other regional championship in 1990, defeated Nouvel despite 27 points from 6-foot-6 Panthers’ senior Trevor Bohnhoff, whose positioning and moves helped foul out three New Haven big men, including junior starters Jamael Bell and Sychar Sterling.
But if there was a flaw in Bohnhoff’s game, it was at the free throw line.
He missed four foul shots in the overtimes, including two with the Panthers leading 57-55 and 2:31 left in the second extra period, as Nouvel was 12-of-25 from the foul line as a team.
That gave the Rockets, who also had backup center Paul Evans foul out, an opening, and they tied the game 57-57 as Rico Cook and Aurelion Cukaj, the fourth player to draw the task of guarding Bohnhoff, made a free throw apiece.
Cukaj made his foul shot, his only point of the game, with 1:32 to play, after he missed his first attempt.
Following the made free throw, New Haven forced a five-second violation against the Panthers.
The Rockets worked time off the clock, almost lost the ball with 38 seconds left, and then called a timeout.
After the stoppage, the Rockets worked the ball around the perimeter and got it to Griffin, who drove into the lane and made a leaning jumper that gave New Haven its first lead of the second OT.
Nouvel had to go the length of the floor after a timeout, and all the Panthers could muster was a 3-point attempt that went over the backboard.
“I’m very happy, emotional,” Griffin said after the Rockets (21-3) picked up individual medals and the regional trophy. “I can’t believe we got this win. I’m so happy.”
Griffin said he wanted to win for France, who played on New Haven’s 1995-96 team that went undefeated in the regular season but lost to Reese in a regional at Sandusky.
“He got me to where I am today as a player,” Griffin said. “I’ve got to listen to him. This is where he lost at, so I did it for him, and the team.”
Griffin said he wasn’t worried when his shots were off target in the middle quarters.
“It’s all mental,” he said. “Mental toughness. That’s what a great player has to have.”
During a mid-game timeout, France looked at Griffin and asked, “Are you all right?”
Griffin nodded affirmatively.
“He looks at me, and I look at him,” France said. “I’m on him so much. He and I go back and forth at practice. But that’s how he got to be the player he is. This is what we prepared for.
“He got cold for a minute, but when the game is on the line I want the ball in his hands. He kept his composure. I’m so proud of him.”
New Haven was appearing in a regional final for the second consecutive year.
The Rockets beat Nouvel in a regional semifinal game at Reese last season, but lost their next game, to Saginaw Buena Vista.
Since 1969, the sophomore year of two-time county Player of the Year Eli Sims, who watched the Rockets beat Nouvel, New Haven was 1-7 in regional finals before Wednesday’s victory.
“Regionals have been the thorn in our side,” France said. “To finally get over the hump is unbelievable. I really don’t know what to say right now. Emotions are running wild.
“Our town is behind this team so much. The school, the fans, the parents do such a great job supporting the team.
“I take my hat off to the kids. They played their best game in a long, long time. They fought hard.”
Vantrell Williams had six assists for New Haven. Bell took 14 rebounds.
Joseph Buchalski had 13 points for Nouvel, which led by nine points on multiple occasions in the third quarter.
“I thought we handed it to them,” Nouvel coach Dale Roberts said after his team finished 16-8. “We get the big kids to foul out and we take a 3 (late in the game) with a three-point lead when we should have gotten the ball to Trevor, where we have a size advantage. We’ve got to play smarter than that. But hey, they battled back. New Haven’s a good team.”
The Panthers, Roberts said, made 68 percent of their free throws for the season.
“What did we shoot tonight?” he asked. “Whatever it was, it wasn’t good.”
New Haven plays Shelby in a quarterfinal game at 7 p.m., Tuesday, at Delta College.
Saginaw Nouvel 10 12 15 10 4 3 - 57
New Haven 13 8 10 16 4 5 - 59
SAGINAW NOUVEL (16-8): Garrett Graham 6, Joseph Buchalski 13, Joshua Buchalski 1,Nick Hammis 10, Trevor Bohnhoff 27. Totals: 22 (1) 12-25 - 57.
NEW HAVEN (21-3): Rico Cook 16, Rayshawn Griffin 27, Tedaro France III 3, Jamael Bell 9, Vantrell Williams 2, Paul Evans 1, Aurelion Cukaji 1. Totals: 18 (4) 11-21 - 59.