EAST LANSING — As a sophomore playing in his first state final, New Haven’s Romeo Weems just needed some time to shake off the jitters. The 6-foot-6 sophomore forward with a scholarship offer from Michigan State, among others, was called for traveling four times in the first half and turned the ball over a fifth time by dribbling off his foot.
And as Weems went, so did the Rockets, who gave away the ball seven times in the first quarter, made just 3 of 11 field goal attempts and had a 6-minute dry spell where they misfired on eight straight trips up the floor. They fell behind, 15-8.
But whenever New Haven needed a spark, Weems was at the center of it, and he led his school to its first state championship, 45-36, over Ludington at MSU’s Breslin Center Saturday.
In what Weems called the turning point, he had a furious putback slam following a missed three-pointer midway through the second quarter which ignited a 15-5 New Haven run. He had another dunk during the spurt and followed that with a block at the other end, helping the Rockets close out the half with a 23-19 lead.
“We started off and nobody was hitting shots. I think we just had to step up big, get our teammates ready to play and get peoples’ nerves out, get everybody going,” he said. “We had to play big – knock down shots, defend; just step up and play better.”
When the Rockets started the third quarter in another funk, Weems’ third slam and two free throws helped New Haven (27-1) take the lead for good. He finished with a game-high 19 points to go with 10 rebounds. Eric Williams added 14, while Ashton Sherrell had 11 rebounds.
While Ludington (25-3) was able to match New Haven’s defensive intensity and slow the pace, the Orioles were their own worst enemy, missing their first 11 shots in the fourth quarter and fell behind by 13, before Calvin Hackert broke the ice with a three-pointer with 1:28 left to cut New Haven’s lead to 43-33.
The Orioles ended the night making just 22.4% from the floor (11-for-49) and 22.2% beyond the arc (4-for-18), netting their lowest point total of the season. Ludington reached the final with a thrilling overtime semifinal victory over River Rouge Friday by erasing an eight-point deficit with 1 1/2 minutes remaining in regulation. But there was no such miracle finish in the championship.
“I thought we had a little bit of control of the game with our offense; we made it the pace we wanted. Defensively we were good, we did a decent job of rebounding the ball, we just couldn’t make shots,” Ludington coach Thad Shank said. “Give a lot of credit to New Haven for that – they’re long, they’re athletic, they’re playing above the rim, and we’re probably the one school playing at the Breslin Center that has never had anyone dunk the basketball in a game. It’s obviously going to have an effect, and that’s why they’re state champions.”