By Nolan Bianchi, Special to The Detroit News
For a coach dealing with an injured star player, the mantra never changes: Next man up.
But for New Haven boys basketball coach Tedaro France, the mantra was never necessary.
Despite missing five-star recruit Romeo Weems, New Haven defeated St. Clair Shores South Lake in the New Haven Holiday Classic championship game, 74-57, on Thursday in the latest installment of a winning streak that has reached 31 games and apparently knows no obstacles.
“People thought with (Weems) out we would take a step back,” France said.
The defending Class B state champs did quite the opposite.
Tavares Oliver Jr. dropped 27 points, Ascaun Johnson added 20 and Ashton Sherrell chipped in 16 for New Haven, whose offensive pace South Lake simply couldn’t compete with in crunch time.
South Lake cut New Haven’s lead to eight in the fourth quarter behind Amier Gilmore’s 16 points, but was stopped short of a comeback when the tournament’s host put all hands on deck at the defensive end.
“That’s what we do,” France said. “The kids here know they won’t play unless they defend.”
Malen Lewis, a 6-foot-5 forward who France said was the “spark” behind New Haven’s late defensive effort, was one of a few players who shined in Weem’s absence.
“He’s not a guy that’s going to fill the stat sheet, but he made some plays in there,” France said. “He stepped up and earned more minutes.”
Then there’s Johnson, a 6-5 wing who also grabbed eight rebounds, and is finding his way as the season goes on.
“Tonight it showed that if we can get (Johnson) playing like this consistently, we can be an even better team that we are now,” France said. “That’s scary.”
And, of course, Oliver, a senior guard who added five assists, commanded respect as a scorer throughout the tournament, dropping an additional 28 points in Wednesday’s semifinal win over Mount Clemens.
It wasn’t the championship New Haven fixed its eyes on when they started the season, but France is still excited about his role players who “showed they can be called on” and “responded well” to a high-intensity situation.
“It’s a big win knowing that we got a key player out and that we played a very solid team in South Lake,” he said.