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Bulldogs stay cool, control NHC race

On Wednesday, Jordan Hogue sealed his collegiate plans by signing to play football at Ball State. On Saturday night, Hogue went a long way in sealing his New Haven basketball team’s fate in the NHC race.

Hogue’s two free throws with 22.7 seconds to play were the difference in the Bulldogs’ 52-51 victory over Homestead, putting control of the conference firmly in the Bulldogs’ hands.

In winning its seventh straight, New Haven improved to 12-2 overall and stands as the conference’s only unbeaten team at 6-0. The Bulldogs, ranked No. 4 in Class 3A, can win their second straight NHC title with a win over East Noble on Thursday.

“We’ve still got one game left,” said Hogue, who finished with 13 points. “We’ve got to finish it out and take it outright.”

Earning that opportunity took a strong effort against the Spartans, which fell to 12-5 and 4-1.

New Haven fell behind by 14 in the first quarter, saw its big man, Steve McElvene, foul out with just two points, then watched his backup, Jakhari Wilbert, foul out with 4:23 to play. With Homestead sophomore Caleb “Biggie” Swanigan scoring a game-high 27 points, the Bulldogs could have folded.

“We talk about mental toughness,” New Haven coach Al Gooden said. “They hung in there. They came through when we needed them to. I thought my whole team did a great job today.”

New Haven senior A.J. Smith, who didn’t seen the floor until the final four minutes, scored four points, including a baseline hook shot that put New Haven up 49-48 with 1:47 to play.

Swanigan was then called for an over-the-back foul going for an offensive rebound and was whistled for a technical foul when he tossed the ball in the air. Jailan Wattley hit a free throw to make it 50-48.

Tahj Curry hit a free throw with 1:05 to play, and Swanigan scored inside with 28.1 seconds left to put Homestead up 51-50.

Hogue was then fouled by Curry as he drove the lane, sending him to the line with the game in the balance and the majority of the 2,100 fans inside the Homestead gym screaming at him.

“I was going deaf in my left ear from the Homestead student section,” Hogue said. “They were bringing it. But I knew I had to stay in my zone and hit the free throws.”

The Spartans had a chance to win the game, but Curry and Lucas Tapp both missed long 3-point attempts, and Joe Ault’s baseline shot fell short as the buzzer sounded, sending the Bulldogs to a midcourt celebration.

As was the case for most of the second half, Swanigan was double-teamed inside on the last possession.

“We had two good looks,” Homestead coach Chris Johnson said. “They really bottled up Biggie. Did we want to go in there? Sure, we did. I just thought it was difficult for our guards to see. They had one guy in front of him and one behind to make that tough pass.”

Lowell Griggs finished with 16 points and Wattley added 14 for New Haven. Ault added 11 points to go with Swanigan’s 27, 16 of which came in the first half.

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