HUNTINGTON – In its practices just before the sectional began this week, New Haven took some time to install a new zone defense. On Friday, the Bulldogs used that defense to pull away from Huntington North.
New Haven's Donovynn Lewis scored 24 points and the Bulldogs forced seven steals in the third quarter on the way to a 68-51 win in the Class 4A sectional semifinal at Huntington North. The win was the Bulldogs' eighth in the last nine games and leaves them one win from their second sectional title in four years.
The Bulldogs will take on Homestead for the championship at 7:30 p.m. today after the Spartans (16-8) beat South Side 84-62 on Friday night.
"These guys are playing together, they're connected right now, they're playing as one," coach Bruce Stephens said. "We talked about that it's time to get rid of the egos. We're trying to play for a championship and these guys gotta play as a team."
The turning point in New Haven's win came early in the third quarter. After leading 36-28 at halftime, the Bulldogs (17-6) ripped off 11 straight points to open the second half, pushing the lead to 19.
The run was facilitated by the zone defense, which New Haven switched to coming out of the locker room. The Bulldogs forced steals on four straight Huntington North (9-15) possessions to open the third quarter and D'Andre Wright had a pair of transition layups off of steals. The Vikings didn't score for the first 4:10 of the quarter.
"I didn't know the guys were going to play (the zone defense) that well because we just really put it in," Stephens said. "But they did a great job playing it and it was the key for us because it got our guys moving. We didn't have to fight through screens.
"(In the first half, the Vikings) were getting a lot of open shots because they were setting double screens and we weren't getting through."
There were plenty of open shots for both teams in the first half, which featured a flurry of 3-pointers. The Bulldogs went 5 for 8 from long distance in the first half, including a 3-for-4 mark from Lewis. The senior guard poured in 15 points in the first half, including a 3 from the corner late in the second quarter that put New Haven in front 36-26 after the Vikings had briefly taken the lead earlier in the quarter.
"I just took what the defense was giving me," Lewis said. "I didn't see a hand up so I would shoot, facilitate for my teammates, anything to get the win, I did it tonight."
Lewis led a high-powered New Haven offense that shot nearly 56% from the field. Ja'kar Williams added 14 points and eight rebounds for the Bulldogs.
The Vikings had won three straight coming into the game, but fell despite 16 points, four rebounds, three assists and two blocks from guard Zach Hubartt. Hubartt and a pair of Vikings starters are all sophomores and coach Chris Teagle has high hopes for the future.
"We really probably improved as much as any team I've had in my 28 years of coaching," Teagle said. "But we just didn't have enough weapons. ... Probably the biggest thing is we have to get stronger. When we play 4A teams we just got beat up, got pushed around. ... I like my group coming back. As long as they work hard, I think we'll be a team that's hard to play with next year."