1. Pressure free throws
With two minutes remaining, Homestead tried to extend the game by sending New Haven to the line. Eleven times the Bulldogs shot free throws, and 11 times they hit them. The perfect finish came from four different players, and more importantly, three times the players were shooting one-and-one. Miss a few of those and the Spartans may have been able to make the comeback.
2. Overcoming foul trouble
The game had a big matchup inside to watch for between New Haven’s Steve McElvene and Homestead’s Caleb Swanigan. The matchup was muted, though, as McElvene picked up his second foul with 7:01 left in the first half and then his fourth foul with 21.7 left in the third quarter. This forced him to the bench for large portions of the game, but senior Lacy Curry responded by holding Swanigan to only four points in the first half and then providing a critical four straight points, including one off his own steal, after Homestead had cut the game to six points midway through the fourth quarter. Homestead had seized momentum and Curry’s play kept New Haven out in front by more than one possession.
3. Fantastic four
Everyone talks about Notre Dame commit VJ Beachem for the Bulldogs, but he wasn’t the only player to have a big game. Beachem did get 23 points to lead all scorers, but three other starters scored at least 14 points for New Haven. The contributions from everyone on the floor forced Homestead’s defense to spread out and not be able to just key on one player.
4. Strong start
The game had plenty of build-up to it. New Haven even did a special introduction, turning the lights out, blaring music and using a spotlight for the starting lineups. All the hoopla actually led to a delay, as all the gym’s lights didn’t turn back on. Once they did, though, New Haven took off. The Bulldogs opened the game on a 12-2 run to force Homestead to play catch-up the entire game.
5. Responding to Homestead’s runs
At different points in the game, New Haven routinely built itself a double-digit lead. And every time, Homestead responded with critical 3-pointers or strong inside play to claw back into the game. Just as it seemed like Homestead would completely close the gap, though, New Haven got a critical offensive possession or stop. The Bulldogs never wilted when the pressure rose, but instead found what they needed and gave themselves a chance at their first NHC crown since 1991.