In Play with Tom Markowski

New Haven downs Benton Harbor, 78-49, in its first semifinal

Basketball   | Tom Markowski

New Haven downs Benton Harbor, 78-49, in its first semifinal

East Lansing – New Haven had never been to a semifinal until Friday and the Rockets played as if they were regular visitors.

New Haven has had many good teams in the past but the Rockets just couldn’t seem to get past the quarterfinals, or the regionals in other seasons.

Coach Tedaro France chalked it up to experience and, finally, it’s paid off. 

Eric Williams, Jr., had 22 points, all in the first half, to lead New Haven to a 78-49 victory over Benton Harbor in a Class B semifinal at the Breslin Center.

New Haven (26-1) will play the winner of the River Rouge-Ludington game for the title on Saturday at 6:30 p.m.

Last season New Haven lost to the eventual state champion, Detroit Henry Ford, 62-40, in a quarterfinal. Henry Ford also eliminated New Haven in the quarterfinals in 2015, 61-55.

New Haven used its superior size to control the play inside against Benton Harbor and though the Rockets didn’t shoot particularly well (43.1 percent), it didn’t matter. Players like 6-6 Romeo Weems, 6-7 Ashton Sherrell and Williams, who is 6-5, were around the basket to either get the offensive rebound (New Haven had 15) or slap the ball loose creating a 50-50 situation.

New Haven led 22-10, 43-19 at halftime and 63-31 after three quarters. With 4:42 remaining New Haven coach Tedaro France removed his starters with his Rockets maintaining a comfortable (67-36) lead.

Weems is considered by most as New Haven’s star. A leading candidate for the 2019 Mr. Basketball award, Weems shared the spotlight with Williams in this game.

Williams had 22 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three steals. A senior, Williams remains uncommitted.

“Eric has had some great starts for us lately,” France said. “He’s really improved on the defensive end. He’s been one of hottest players in the state.”

It was Williams’ play late in the first quarter and early in the second that created separation. His 3-point play gave the Rockets a 20-10 lead with 48.5 seconds left in the first. With the clock running down he stole the ball underneath the Benton Harbor basketball and his layup closed out the quarter and gave New Haven a 22-10 lead.

He scored his team’s first three points of the second to push the lead to 25-11 and he added two 3-pointers later in the quarter to give him 22 points in the half.

Five of Williams’ rebounds came on the offensive end.

“I came out and played aggressive,” Williams said. “Last game I wasn’t as aggressive.

“When the ball is loose out there I’m there. I’m trying to help the team anyway I can.”

Where Williams did much of his work on the perimeter, Weems was more of a force inside. He had 14 points, 13 rebounds and five assists. His presence inside, along with that of Sherrell, kept the Tigers from achieving any type of consistency near the basket.

Sherrell added nine rebounds, six points and three blocks.

Michigan coach John Beilein was seated near one of the baskets to get a closer look at one of the top players in the class of 2019.

“I just have fun,” Weems said. “When I got out onto the court I just started smiling.”

Benton Harbor (22-4) has just two seniors and this tournament run will benefit the Tigers in the future.

“This was a good experience for our guys,” Benton Harbor coach Corey Sterling said. “Now we have to work hard during the summer so we can win a title.”

Elijah Baxter led the Tigers with 14 points and Carlos Johnson, a 6-6 freshman, had nine points, 10 rebounds and three blocks.

“We like to run,” Johnson said. “And when we ran they were right there with us. It was tough.”

New Haven held Benton Harbor to 32.8 percent (19-58) from the field and the Rockets showed their range offensively as they were 8-of-17 (47.1 percent) from the 3-point range.