The Warwick Vets boys’ basketball team entered Tuesday’s game against Ponaganset High School with a mentality to get over the .500 hump and got there in impressive fashion with a 62-47 victory.
“One of our goals today was shooting inside, before shooting outside,” Vets head coach Chris LeBlanc said. “For once, we had a height advantage, which we liked. (Ponaganset) is hurting this year so we tried to take advantage of our height inside.”
In doing so, Vets improved to 4-3 and is tied with Pilgrim for first place in Division III-Central.
Scoring inside was the team’s biggest weapon on Tuesday, but defense has been the team’s calling card. Vets, which allows only 55 points per game, forced the Chieftains to turn over the basketball 13 times in the first half. It was that defense that led the charge in keying a 6-2 run in the early minutes of the first half and throughout the contest, and it started with junior Josh Muto.
“Muto dominated the game offensively and defensively,” Ponaganset head coach Roger Forand said. “He harassed the point guards and took us out of our game. If he wasn’t on the floor, it’s a different game. We managed to hang around, but he dominated the game defensively. We couldn’t get anything going at all, and he was a big part of it.”
Muto recorded 13 points, shooting 5-of-6 from the free throw line. LeBlanc feels plenty comfortable letting Muto manage the offense and set the tone on both ends of the floor.
“Josh is the floor general, and he does a good job distributing the ball,” LeBlanc said. “He can take good shots, when he needs to. He does a good job out there.”
The Hurricanes took full advantage of the Ponaganset turnovers, capping off the first half with a 20-6 run. A key component in that run was senior Will Remak. Remak netted 13 of his 18 points in the closing minutes of the half, making two three-pointers.
“We have a good offense,” Muto said. “We like to use a lot of pick and rolls. I got Will who is a good shooter, and Scott [Camara], so it’s easy to run the offense.”
LeBlanc was pleased with the performance by his backcourt, and especially Remak’s scoring showcase in the first half.
“I think Justin [Batista], Josh and Kyle [Agin], our guards, are good with their hands,” LeBlanc said. “It was nice to see Will actually shoot the ball and put it in the basket this time around, so we are hopeful we can build off of that. But I think we are a defensive unit this year, and we will continue to work defensively.”
Camara recorded nine points, junior Kevin Martin scored six points and Israel Thomas contributed eight points and was a force on the offensive glass.
The second half of play wasn’t exactly what the doctor ordered, but it ultimately solidified an 11-point lead. Ponaganset came out with a sense of urgency in the second half, cutting the deficit to nine points in part because of a 19-point performance by senior Bailey Braga and Warwick’s foul trouble.
LeBlanc utilized one of his timeouts to talk things over defensively and to make sure all of his players were on the same page.
“We sent Justin [Batista] out there, who is our stellar defender,” LeBlanc said. “The quickest feet I have ever seen in my life. They didn’t score for four and a half minutes. I called a timeout there, and kind of screamed at them about picking it up on defense. It felt like we were up by 30, but we were really only up by nine. But Justin is the man that spread us out defensively.”
Similar to how the first half finished, Vets let its defense do the talking late and took full control thanks to a 7-0 streak in the latter minutes of the second half.
Vets next game will be this weekend, as it will put its two-game winning streak on the line at home against East Greenwich on Friday at 7 p.m.
Prior to Tuesday’s game, the Vets junior varsity team won its ninth consecutive game to start the season and its 32nd in a row overall. The ’Canes won the Division III junior varsity title last year, finishing the season 23-0.