KENDALLVILLE – It took awhile before New Haven called off the dogs, as the term goes.
The anticipated mismatch between New Haven, in search of a share of the NHC championship, and East Noble, looking for its first conference win, never really came to fruition until the third quarter. After that is when Bulldogs coach Al Gooden figured it was safe to bring in the boys from the bench.
As East Noble’s bid for the upset collapsed under an avalanche of 27 turnovers and V.J. Beachem, New Haven (12-4, 6-1) did, in fact, claim a portion of its first conference championship since 1991 with a 71-27 win over the Knights (2-16, 0-7).
We are all New Haven now, and we’re trying to be the best that New Haven can be, Gooden said. I appreciate the history that was already there. I know some of the history. And that’s what we’re trying to do – stay with the history, and don’t change anything. Don’t hurt it at all; don’t embarrass it. Try to add on to the history.
Even though the Bulldogs tied Homestead for the NHC title, there’s the knowledge that they beat the Spartans 82-70 when they met face-to-face. Then again, there’s the heartbreak of a one-point home loss to DeKalb that prevented an outright championship.
Oh, yes, Gooden said with a grimace. That was a big loss. It loomed big. And we talked about that.
The Spartans defeated Norwell 72-63 Thursday to share the title with New Haven.
When halftime came Thursday, East Noble was still in the hunt, trailing 29-18.
Coach came in here and pretty much lit us up at halftime, so we had to play our game in the second half, said Beachem, whose 27 total matched that of the Knights. It started on the defensive end. We started getting some steals and getting out in transition. And then we started taking our time on offense and knocking some shots down.
Gooden admitted he wasn’t pleased with his Bulldogs in the first half, and he let them know it.
I thought we weren’t playing with any energy or emotion, he said. We missed a lot of layups, and we needed to get a little more focused on what we needed to get done.
Because New Haven came out of its upstairs locker room just as the halftime buzzer sounded, the Bulldogs didn’t have time to warm up.
One official asked Gooden whether his team was ready.
Yeah, Gooden said. We’re ready.
Were the Bulldogs ever. New Haven connected on 11 of 15 field goals in the third period, and Beachem, the 6-foot-8 handful bound for Notre Dame, scored 13 of his 27. In eight minutes, the Bulldogs outscored East Noble 26-6 to take a 55-24 lead.
It only got worse for the home team, which went scoreless in the fourth quarter until senior Andrew Gordon hit a three-pointer with 30 seconds remaining.
It still means a lot to me, Beachem said of the NHC title share. I’m still a part of New Haven now, and I’m proud to represent the community and proud to bring them a conference championship.