NEW HAVEN – To hear Al Gooden’s postgame comments to his team, New Haven still has unfinished business.
We’ve still got work to do, Gooden warned from within the Bulldogs’ locker room. And in case somebody in the back didn’t pay attention, Gooden said it again: We’ve still got work to do. Then once more, for emphasis: We’ve still got work to do.
This after New Haven worked over Columbia City 69-54 in a much-anticipated tussle between two of the NHC’s best. The Eagles (14-3, 3-2) had won two in a row, and New Haven (9-4, 4-1) came in with four straight. Plus, there’s the conference championship that is still out there.
From the outset, when 6-foot-3 junior Jordan Hogue followed up his own missed shot 14 seconds into the game, New Haven’s size superiority was established. To drive home the point even more, there was a missed shot from 6-7 V.J. Beachem and missed putbacks by Hogue and 6-11 Steve McElvene before – on the fourth attempt – Hogue scored, igniting a run that sent the Bulldogs to a 21-10 first-quarter lead.
It was huge for us, said Notre Dame-bound Beachem, who led New Haven with 22 points. It set the tempo for the game, but it was also one of the smartest games we played. We always play hard, but this was one of the smartest games we played. Once we jumped out on them, we were able to keep the lead the rest of the game.
The Eagles didn’t go away easily, thanks to 14 of Drew Benedict’s 20 points coming in the first half.
An eight-point halftime deficit was cut to three, 46-43, when Derek Hinen scored from underneath with 1:41 left in the third quarter. But in the final 57 seconds, New Haven got a free throw from Hogue, a close-range basket from Beachem and a steal and layup from Hogue to rocket the Bulldogs back up by eight, 51-43, going into the final quarter.
By the time New Haven opened the fourth on a 14-4 run, there was still work to be done. It was just a formality, though.
They’re a very talented team, no question about it, Columbia City coach Chris Benedict said. The guys were fighting uphill most of the night. By the time we would make it a one-possession game, there would be a breakdown defensively and they’d get a bucket or an offensive rebound, then they’d get a three-possession lead on you, and you’re trying to catch up.
New Haven hit Columbia City from all angles.
McElvene came up with 16 points. Hogue had 11. Jabar Ray scored eight of his 10 points in the third quarter. And point guard Monte Stevenson had 10 points and six assists.
We played together as a team and played smart, Stevenson said. We played hard. Even though things weren’t going for us in the first half, we came back hard and hit it in the second half, and we kept our composure.
But although it was the fifth win in a row, it was still one game.
We’re not done yet, Gooden said.
We’ve still got work to do.