By Kevin Lozon
ew Haven’s Eric Williams Jr. was a rally killer on Friday night.
Warren Woods-Tower made two runs at the host Rockets in the fourth quarter and both times, Williams stepped up and hit a big shot, scoring 10 of his game-high 19 points in the final quarter, leading New Haven to a 66-54 MAC Gold Division victory.
The Titans trailed 51-36 after three quarters, but closed to within 10 at 54-44 on two free throws by Charles Barnes with 4:49 to play. Williams answered on the other end, making a layup in traffic, starting a 6-0 run, which he capped with a triple, pushing the Rocket lead to 60-44 with 3:33 to go.
WWT had the Rocket lead down to 61-47 on two free throws by Dazmond Lawrence with 2:58 left. After a Rocket miss, Williams picked the pocket of the Titan guard along the baseline and converted the layup, capping the victory.
“His play tonight was huge,” New Haven boys basketball coach Tedaro France II said. “He’s been consistent the whole year. He’s been shooting the ball well and he’s grown just knowing the game. He’s so unselfish that sometimes he waits too long to take those shots.”
Titan coach Nick Evola added, “He made some big shots, but a couple times it was a mental lapse on our part. We were lackadaisical with the ball and didn’t have the awareness where guys were at.”
New Haven started slowly, leading 13-9 after one quarter behind five points by Romeo Weems. The Rockets separated themselves from the Titans in the second quarter, outscoring WWT 23-6, gaining a 36-15 lead at halftime. Innocent Nwoko led the way with six points, but France said the key to the outburst was his team’s defense.
“Defense is what we thrive to be the best at,” France said. “Kids are competing on defense to stay in the game. Our speed and quickness can force teams to play quicker than they want to. That way we can get some quick points off our defense.”
“I told they guys I thought we got some good looks, but the ball wasn’t falling,” Evola said. “A couple shots were rushed because I think some guys were worried about getting it blocked.”
The Titans regrouped at halftime and played a solid third quarter, outscoring the Rockets 21-15 in the period, cutting New Haven’s lead to 51-36. Jauron Vicks and Robert Anderson each scored six points to lead the way.
“The second half we made some adjustments and the guys answered the call,” Evola said. “We had a heckuva second half. When we’re down by that much, you can’t get caught up exchanging baskets.”
Besides Williams, the Rockets had Weems with 16 points, while Jerry Ben and Nwoko each chipped in 10 points. The win improved New Haven’s record to 16-1 overall, 10-0 league.
“We have a young group and I’m seeing the growth in them each day,” France said. “We need to win games like this one to prepare us for March. Warren Woods-Tower is a great team and this was a great league game. I’m proud of my team for staying composed and making plays down the stretch like we needed to.”
WWT was paced by Vicks with 13 points, while Lawrence added 12 points. Anderson contributed 10 points as the Titans fell to 12-4 overall, 7-3 league.
“(Vick’s) has been good for us all year,” Evola said. “There was a lid on the rim for him in the first half, but I told him he was getting some great looks and to keep going and not worry about it. The second half he stepped up and got it going.”