New Haven Remains Undefeated and Betters Mt. Clemens 51-43.

28 Feb

IMG_0168Mt. Clemens and New Haven are two schools separated by 10 miles on historic Gratiot Avenue.  The latest meeting between the Battling Bathers and Rockets was a typical high school rivalry game; a filled to capacity gym and a boisterous crowd, yet, it was the work of a transfer who flipped what might have been New Haven’s first loss of the year into the Rockets’ nineteenth victory, 6’4″ senior guard Dmonta Harris.

Harris has thrived in his lone year at New Haven.  Harris has averaged double-figures with both scoring and rebounding en route to leading the Rockets to an outright MAC Gold Division championship.  He is a strong candidate for Class B player of the year.

Harris’ Rockets have averaged close to 70 points in games the entire season, but not against Mt. Clemens.  The Bathers used their speed and quickness to frustrate the high-powered New Haven attack, limiting the interior touches to 6’10s” Innocent Nwyoko and Jerry Ben, while forcing 12 uncharacteristic Rocket turnovers in the first half.  The Rockets would manage to score only four points in the entire second quarter and Mt. Clemens led 21-18 at intermission.

Even in the early and middle portions of the third, New Haven could not find their offensive rhythm and the Bathers capitalized.  Mt. Clemens used their high-tempo, five guard transition offense to lead as many as 11 points with 3:12 remaining in the third quarter.  New Haven decided to match them fire-for-fire.

“That was a concern coming into the game, they run a five guard set and sometimes their speed is so fast,” New Haven head coach, Tedaro France said.  “We’re a big team, but we got the luxury of going small, so we had to match their speed for speed.”

And speed the game up New Haven did!  Four different Rockets scored to close the third quarter on a 13-0 New Haven run to lead 33-31 entering the final stanza of play; the first Rocket lead since the opening quarter.

“We didn’t have enough energy,” Harris mentioned which was his coach’s message at the half.  “We knew that in order to get this victory, we had to be more scrappy and do the small things.”

Emotions ran high in the fourth, which is expected in any rivalry game. Technical fouls were assessed to each team less than two minutes into the fourth.  The hostile environment only fueled Harris.  Harris scored 10 of New Haven’s 18 points in the fourth quarter, including one stretch where he scored 8-10 of his teams points.  Harris finished with a team-high 19, only four came about in the opening half and Harris did not register a single point in the second.

“He can score a lot points,” France referred to Harris following the game.  “He’s so unselfish to the point at times I got to say, ‘Hey you got to score.’ But he gets the whole team involved, and then when he takes off, he takes off.”

Mt. Clemens would keep the score tight in the fourth.  The Bathers had the game tied with 3:45 seconds left.  However, Harris’ classmate, Austin Sherrell, connected on a jump shot with the ensuing possession for New Haven to gain a 43-41 lead.  From then on, New Haven relied on defense to finish off a well-earned victory.  Allowing just two points the final 3:30 seconds of the contest and held Mt. Clemens scoreless on their final seven possessions.

Aside from Harris, Austin Sherrell contributed 12 points and six rebounds and John Galloway added 11 points.  Mt. Clemens was led by senior guard Devin Felts with 15 points.

When asked about whether or not he knew New Haven could achieve regular-season perfection, Harris is still in awe about the reality of the situation.  “I thought we were going to be pretty good, but not this good,” Harris added. “I never thought we’d be undefeated, I never imagined that!”

Mt. Clemens had won nine of the previous 11 meetings against New Haven.  Both are champions of their respective MAC Divisions, only adding to the game’s intensity.  While he still is the newcomer at New Haven, Harris has been met with open arms from the Rocket community.  “It sill means a lot,” Harris acknowledged playing in his first New Haven vs. Mt. Clemens game, “I know the community supports me a lot; they support my family a lot.”  “Whatever I can do to help, come out and get a victory like this makes everybody happy. That’s all that matters.”

New Haven has just one more obstacle in their pursuit of perfection, a meeting and rematch against Madison Heights Madison.

Both Harris and Coach France are aware from now on, continuing into the playoffs, that every team is going to want a piece of New Haven.  The lessons learned in a playoff-like atmosphere will be invaluable for the Rockets moving ahead into March when each contest is a one game season.

“For the playoffs, I think close games like this show what we can really do as a team,” Harris said.  “This is preparing us to respond to adversity, respond to being pressured, respond to being in a close game, packed out stands, it’s going to be much more of this. So it prepares us for the pressure of the next level.”

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