Fifty-eight points does not constitute an offensive explosion, but the Bishop Hendricken basketball team needed only to look back at its last meeting with Mt. Pleasant to see that it was a step in the right direction.
The Hawks gave up 44 points to the Kilties in Friday’s season opener, exactly the same number they allowed to Mt. Pleasant in a January meeting last season. They lost that game 44-36. On Friday, they won 58-44. It’s early, but it was an indication that the Hawks have turned last season’s Achilles heel into much less of a weakness – and maybe the beginning of a strength.
“Our teams the last few years have been grind-it-out, defensive teams because we couldn’t score in bunches,” said head coach Jamal Gomes. “We can do that this year. Last year, we averaged 49 a game. This year, in our two games, we’re up around 58, 59. That was with 13 missed free throws tonight. You make some of those, now we’re up in the 60’s. If we can get up to that point consistently, we’re going to be in great shape.”
Junior Matt Duffie and freshman Justin Mazzulla led the Hawks with 12 points each. The Hawks never suffered through the kind of long drought that was common last season, with persistence in getting to the basket creating consistent opportunities. On the downside, they committed 23 turnovers, but that didn’t override the general feeling of improvement.
“I understand it’s early and we’ve got a lot of things to work on, especially handling pressure,” Gomes said. “This year, we’ve got guys who are getting to the basket. We haven’t had that in a couple of years. When you have that, it opens up a world of things.”
While the Hawks made just one of their first nine field goal attempts, they got to the basket and forced the issue, getting themselves to the free-throw line five times in the game’s first six minutes.
In the meantime, the defense didn’t miss a beat in its quest to match last year’s squad. Playing a 2-3 zone, the Hawks held the Kilties scoreless for the first 5:25 of the game.
“I wasn’t expecting us to play perfect,” Gomes said. “I told them prior to the game, I expect three things – effort, energy and enthusiasm. I thought all were very good.”
Hendricken led 7-0 but saw the deficit cut to one at 9-8 when the Kilties finally settled in. The Hawks responded, though, going on an 8-0 run to regain control. Six of the points came on fast breaks.
The Hawks led by as many as 12 before the Kilties scored the final seven points of the half. Hendricken led 26-21 at the break.
At the start of the second half, the Kilties made their run. Three Hendricken turnovers set the stage for a 9-0 burst that gave Mt. Pleasant its first lead of the game.
The danger for the young Hawks was panic, but they never let it set in. Ira Lough hit a jumper from the elbow to tie the game. After the Kilties went in front again, Lough scored inside to make it 32-32. Garfield Coustard then scored on the break, stole the ball and passed it ahead to Mazzulla for another bucket. Chris O’Brien then buried a three, and just like that the Hawks were back up by seven. The run came in 1:16.
They never trailed again.
“We showed some character because we didn’t get off to a good start in the second half,” Gomes said. “We battled back and we scored in bunches in the second half. We haven’t done that in a couple of years.”
The Kilties got as close as three before the Hawks pulled away again thanks to a 7-0 run. A dunk by Will Parmlee with 3:18 left put Hendricken up by 10 and the lead never dipped below double digits.
“I think we’re back to playing Hendricken basketball – tough defense with solid offense,” Gomes said.
Parmlee tallied nine points to go with the 12 points from Duffie and Mazzulla. Kyle Henseler chipped in eight.
All in all, it was a solid first step.
“I really like the potential of this group,” Gomes said. “I’ve been telling them that since the beginning of the season. But I’ve also been telling them potential and a bag of chips equals a bag of chips. Potential is only good if you reach it.”
The Hawks will have an opportunity for more growth this week. They’ll travel to Boston for the BABC Holiday Classic, with a game against Dorchester (Mass.) High School on Friday and a matchup with perennial Connecticut powerhouse Windsor on Saturday.
“They’ll be good, quality games for us,” Gomes said. “Then it’s back to league play.”
The D-I slate resumes Dec. 30 with a 7 p.m. home game against Smithfield.