NEW HAVEN — It was nearly a perfect start to the season for New Haven's Steve McElvene. The 6-foot-11 senior started the game against Northrop making his first nine shots. Then, as the buzzer expired, he put up a shot that bounced off the rim and out for his only miss in the game.
No matter, because nearly perfect was more than enough for McElvene and the Bulldogs as they beat the Bruins 52-40 in their first game of the season.
“My team, they help me a lot in practice and stuff like that, going up hard for the ball and get fouled as I go up, but my coaching staff works real hard in the paint with me, so it really wasn't just me out there going 9 for 9,” McElvene said.
The Dayton commit led the way for New Haven as he finished with 18 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks. His stats weren't the only thing causing issues for Northrop. His presence and body inside forced the Bruins out of their rhythm offensively for most of the game.
“(McElvene) takes up a lot of space and is able to get off the ground and block shots,” Northrop coach Barak Coolman said. “We have some really good midrange guys that just totally went away from that. They were attacking the basket and stopped ... after it wasn't working and just kind of settled for contested jump shots, and that's just not our strength.”
McElvene also ignited a run to start the second half that pushed New Haven out in front by a healthy margin. The Bulldogs led 23-18 at halftime, but opened up the third quarter with two McElvene baskets and two three-pointers by Jordan Hogue, who finished the game with 13 points.
It was a 10-1 run that put them up by 14 and in firm control as the Bulldogs would outscore the Bruins 22-9 in the quarter.
“I think that second half, we just (sat) down and played defense really good,” New Haven coach Al Gooden said.
Northrop slowly battled back in the fourth quarter after Enis Becirevic got involved. He scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half. The Bruins brought the game to within seven late but could never get it within one or two possessions.
“We kind of went away from him (Becirevic) in the first half and that really hurt us when we had some chances to kind of maybe capitalize on their slow play in their first game,” Coolman said. “We got back to getting it to him (in the second half), and he's going to have a great year for us.”
For both teams the game was also a good indicator and experience for later in the season. Northrop (1-1) got to go up against one of the best big men in the area for a team returning only one starter with experience and see how it responded.
New Haven (1-0) saw just how great McElvene can be this year and also where it needs to improve from the outside.
“In the flow of the game we didn't play smart enough and run our offense, and we just kept running and said this to my guards, I already told my guards, that they have to sit down and run our offense,” Gooden said. “Run it through, reverse it and get it into our big guy where we can score.”
Sounds like a good plan, especially if McElvene can be nearly perfect.