Bishop Hendricken had nine days between the end of its regular season and its opener in the Division I boys' basketball playoffs. The focus throughout that stretch was on fundamentals, and for the Hawks, there's nothing more fundamental than defense.
It must have been a good nine days.
The Hawks forced 26 turnovers in Wednesday's quarterfinal game against Smithfield at East Providence High School and limited the Sentinels to their second-lowest point total of the season in a 59-42 victory.
Their previous low was 41, in another loss to Hendricken, but that was in December and the new year had turned the Sentinels into a contender. With 11 wins in their final 13 games, they finished with the same 13-5 record as the Hawks and they're the only team that's beaten top-seeded La Salle.
But the Hawks cruised right past them.
“We had eight or nine days to prepare for this game, and we got back to the fundamentals,” said Hendricken head coach Jamal Gomes. “I told them all week, 'The playoffs come down to your understanding of the fundamentals.' Defensively, we were very fundamentally sound today.”
Hendricken moved into the Division I semifinals, where it will match up with rival La Salle Friday at 8:15 p.m., at CCRI's Knight Campus in Warwick. The Rams beat Mt. Pleasant 65-50 to punch their ticket. Classical and North Kingstown will meet in the other semifinal, which is scheduled for 6:30 p.m., at CCRI.
The Hawks came into Wednesday's quarterfinal as the No. 4 seed in the 10-team bracket. Smithfield was seeded fifth.
The opening minutes had both teams looking like they belonged a little further down the ladder. Hendricken missed its first seven field-goal attempts and committed six turnovers before its first basket. Smithfield led 6-2 but wasn't on fire either.
But once the Hawks settled in, the helter-skelter pace was just to their liking. They tied the game on consecutive steals and lay-ups by Garfield Coustard and Kyle Henseler. After Smithfield went up 10-6, the Hawks put together a 13-2 run to take control. Justin Mazzulla started it with a jumper and a pair of turnovers led to a bucket for Henseler and a three-pointer by E.J. Nygren. Coustard added two buckets and Mazzulla hit a pull-up jumper to make it 19-12.
The Hawks pulled away again late in the half, ending the frame on a 12-0 run. Coustard scored inside and hit a three, Mazzulla scored on a layup, Chris O'Brien buried a three and Matt Duffie ended the half with a run-out layup as the buzzer sounded.
The Hawks suddenly led by 19, and they were playing exactly the way they wanted.
“We've shown tremendous improvement this year, mainly because this group of kids loves each other,” Gomes said. “They come to practice, they work hard.”
Hendricken opened the second half by out-scoring the Sentinels 12-4 in the first four-and-a-half minutes. They made six of their first nine shots, with eight points from Coustard leading the way.
The Hawks led by as many as 27. Smithfield cut that by 10 over the rest of the second half but never really threatened. The Sentinels committed 15 second-half turnovers and couldn't get many clean looks. Sophomore Joe Delricci – who hit five threes in Smithfield's win over La Salle – drew special attention from the Hawks and scored just two points.
Coustard led all scorers with 19, continuing a breakout senior season.
“He bought in,” Gomes said. “Tremendous improvement. His effort, his rebounding, he's finishing, he's getting out on the break. I'm very proud of that young man.”
Henseler and Will Parmlee chipped in nine points each for the Hawks and Mazzulla scored eight.
Hendricken will now match up with the Rams, who went 17-1 and won their last seven games after the one loss. The Rams beat the Hawks 76-66 on Feb. 16.