- By Kevin Lozon For The Macomb Daily
The Rockets have two weeks before the state tournament begins but are using the MAC Red/White Division Tournament as a dress rehearsal. After defeating Chippewa Valley in the quarterfinals, New Haven took another step in playing its best on Wednesday night, downing host and MAC Red co-champion Stevenson 67-50 in the tournament semifinals.
“We’re working hard and each day we want to win the day,” New Haven coach Tedaro France II said. “We want to improve more than we did the day before. The kids are working hard and we’re gelling here at the end of the year.”
New Haven put a full-court man-to-man defense on Stevenson from the opening tap and it sparked the Rockets in the first half, racing to a 20-14 lead after one quarter, before extending that lead to 37-28 at halftime.
“We knew coming (to Stevenson) and playing against a well-coached team, we knew we had to set the tempo defensively,” France said. “It was a big playoff game against the MAC Red co-champions. They’re a tough team and we had to take away the crowd and them in the first half.”
Ronald Jeffery III had 16 points in the first half, while Trenell Payne added 11 for the Rockets in the first 16 minutes.
“We know teams are going to try and take Romeo (Weems) away,” France said. “My guys do a good job getting those wide-open looks and they’re making teams pay for focusing on just one player. Ronald and Trenell are kids who can score and they’re taking advantage of the opportunity.”
Stevenson coach Mark LaCombe said New Haven’s pressure defense was effective but said it should’ve been mind over matter for his Titan squad.
“Give New Haven credit,” LaCombe said. “But our kids have been playing long enough now that their pressure is what it is. It’s more in your head than it is anything else. New Haven played hard and had great athletes, but it was more of us trying to get used to that style.”
Both teams scored eight points in the third quarter, before New Haven put the game away with a 22-14 run in the final period, including eight points by Jamir Farrior and seven points from Weems.
“Stevenson can shoot the three and they still made a lot of them in the first half,” France said. “We wanted to make them dribble and drive to the basket. For the most part we did a good job with that tonight.”
Jeffery III led the Rockets with 22 points, while Payne added 14 points. Weems and Farrior chipped in 13 and 10 points, respectively. The win improved New Haven’s record to 17-1 overall and moved the Rockets in Saturday’s championship game against Roseville. Game time is set for 5 p.m. at Stevenson.
Stevenson was led by Jerry Wilson with 15 points, while Ayhem Hanna added 14 points, and Ethan Peck contributed 11 points.
“Ethan has been awesome all season in big games when we need him,” LaCombe said. “He rebounds and has been finishing well. He was a bright spot for us tonight.”
The loss dropped the Titans’ record to 12-4 overall. Stevenson will play the loser of the Dakota/Roseville game on Friday night.
“I don’t know if it was our best shot, but we gave it a good shot,” LaCombe said. “We didn’t execute offensively the way we have the past couple of games. The offensive execution was not clean, which is frustrating.”