It's been awhile since Chris Johnson has had to talk to his team after a conference loss. The last time the Homestead coach walked away a loser in the Northeast Hoosier Conference was three years and 19 games ago in the 2009-10 season.
On Saturday night, though, New Haven responded to a fourth quarter push from the Spartans to win 82-70. The victory moved New Haven into a 5-1 tie with Homestead on top of the conference with one game remaining for both teams.
“You never like to lose, but they played awfully well tonight,” Johnson said. “Give (New Haven head coach) Al (Gooden) and their coaches and their team all the credit. Hopefully these are things we can learn from.”
The Bulldogs came away with win by withstanding Homestead's Caleb Swanigan in the fourth quarter. New Haven was up 57-43 after the third but big man Steve McElvene had picked up his fourth foul with just 27.6 seconds left in the quarter.
To start the fourth, Homestead took advantage by going inside to Swanigan. The Spartans went on a 10-0 run behind seven points from the freshman to pull within six points with 5:57 remaining in the game.
“We started off moving the ball too much, doing too much, but once we slowed down we were able to play our game and negate their 10-0 run,” said New Haven's VJ Beachem.
The rest of the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs and Spartans traded baskets, but Homestead was never able to close the gap. New Haven maintained at least a 6-point lead the rest of the game and then nailed critical free throws.
The Bulldogs made 11 straight free throws in the last two minutes of the game, including three times when players were shooting one-and-one situations.
“Coach always talks about free throws, free throws, free throws,” Beachem said, who led all scorers with 23 points. “We shoot 25 at the end of practice when we are tired, and it paid off for us tonight.”
While Beachem led all scorers, he wasn't the only Bulldog to have a strong game. Four of the five New Haven starters scored in double figures, including 18 from Monte Stevenson and 15 from Jordan Hogue. The New Haven starters scored all but six of the 82 points for the Bulldogs in the game. Homestead was led by Nick Gamble's 18 and Swanigan's 17.
“We have had four guys in double figures all year long,” Gooden said. “Let (other teams) worry about VJ, (and) don't worry about them other four guys. We'll be alright.”
New Haven (11-4) and Homestead (14-4) both have a chance to clinch at least a share of the NHC Thursday night. The conference does not use a tiebreaker, so if New Haven wins at East Noble and Homestead wins at Norwell, the two teams will share the championship. If New Haven wins it would be their first since conference championship since 1991, and Homestead is going for its fourth straight.
For Johnson and his Spartans, it was something to look forward to after dealing with the weird feeling of losing to an NHC opponent.
“We still have a chance, and we have to go into a tough place in Norwell with a chance to tie for the conference,” Johnson said. “That's been one of our goals, to make sure we win conference and we have the opportunity come Thursday.”
HOMESTEAD 70, NEW HAVEN 82
Homestead 13 18 12 27 — 70
New Haven 17 18 22 25 — 82
Homestead: Osborn 11, Ault 6, Gamble 18, Coate 9, Swanigan 17, Geller 4, Togashi 5
New Haven: Stevenson 18, Hogue 15, Ray 14, Beachem 23, McElvene 6, Curry 6