It was fitting that the Bishop Hendricken basketball team’s season came down to the last possession, in a low-scoring affair at Providence College’s Alumni Hall on Sunday.
That’s been the standard way of life for the Hawks all season, and they’ve accepted the results. On Sunday, though, that meant a loss, and a tough ending to an up-and-down year.
Hope’s Wayne Clements scored inside on a putback with 13 seconds to play, and Ryan Hagerty’s potential game-winning basket at the buzzer was waved off, giving the Blue Wave a 48-47 victory over the Hawks in the state quarterfinals.
Hendricken – the No. 15 seed in the 16-team tournament – was just milliseconds away from advancing to the Final Four, but instead was left to wonder about missed free throws, missed layups and what could have been.
Yet, there was plenty of pride in a season where nothing came easy for the Hawks, who finished with a 9-9 record, barely made the Division I tournament, then had to win two games just to sneak into the state tournament.
They followed that up with a 59-54 upset of No. 2 La Salle in the round of 16 on Wednesday before falling to No. 7 Hope. And all along, they did it their way.
“We fought, we battled, we scrapped,” Hendricken head coach Jamal Gomes said. “We made every team, pretty much all year long, play our style. That says a lot about the mental focus, the mental ability of our team. To take teams – I don’t know what Hope is averaging a game, I’m guessing it’s in the 60’s – to be able to take them and get the game in the 40’s, that says a lot about my kids.”
The offensively-limited Hawks were the third-lowest scoring team in all of Division I, but they used defensive intensity to stay close to just about everybody.
Hendricken played in 11 games that were decided by five points or less against Rhode Island competition. It went 5-6 in those games.
“I got a little emotional in the locker room, not because we lost the game – I can take wins and losses – just because of how proud of this group I am,” Gomes said. “Just how proud of their fight and their heart. I told them, eventually in life that’s what it’s all about.”
Hendricken’s season almost continued past Sunday thanks to that grinding style of play. Down by nine points, 43-34, with 4:36 to play, the Hawks went on a 13-3 run to take a 47-46 lead with just over a minute to play.
“The average team goes down nine points in the second half, they fold,” Gomes said. “My guys don’t. We don’t do that. That’s not how we are. We were going to stay with the fight, we were going to battle.”
The team’s leading scorer, Will Tavares, was held to just seven points on the day, but he and fellow senior captain Kazre Cummings started the second-half comeback. Tavares made five out of six free throws in a three-possession span, and Cummings followed that up with two buckets and two free throws of his own to get Hendricken within 46-45.
Then, with 1:28 left, Cummings made a steal and dished the ball to a cutting Tavares on a fast break, and Tavares converted a runner in the lane to give Hendricken a one-point lead, its first since the 12-minute mark in the second half when it led 26-25.
“During the season, we had plenty of games where we had to battle down from eight, down from nine, down from 11,” said Cummings, who finished with a game-high 18 points. “When that happened, I looked at myself and said that we all have to lead each other. We all have to fight back. This is our season on the line. I think that once we knew that, we were able to make the certain plays to get back in the game.”
Clements missed a shot for Hope on its next possession and the Hawks got the rebound. They took a timeout with 58 seconds to play.
On the ensuing inbounds play, they got the ball to Tavares, and he dribbled back toward half-court to run down some clock. Hope’s Delonce Wright closed in on him and Tavares continued to hold the ball, resulting in a five-second violation that gave Hope the ball back with a chance to take the lead.
“The kid first started off him and then came up and the five-second count started,” Gomes said. “We were trying to pull it out and work the clock a little bit and hopefully open up the middle and drive it in there. It didn’t work.”
The Blue Wave pushed the ball, and Benjamin Vezele took a three from the left that wasn’t close. But the ball bounced down to Clements, who put it in off the backboard with 13 seconds left to put Hope back in front.
The Hawks got the ball down the court in a hurry and Hagerty got a good look from the baseline, but his jump shot was blocked into the crowd by Hope’s Johnson Weah with four seconds left.
Hendricken took another timeout with 4.5 seconds left.
“We said, ‘Will (Tavares) if you can get it and drive it and draw a foul or get a layup, that’s a good opportunity,’” Gomes said of the final play call. “‘If not, look for Kazre back on the inbounds.’”
The second option is exactly what happened, as Cummings inbounded the ball and got it right back, then fired up a slightly off-balance three from the top of the key. The ball went in-and-out, and the rebound went out to Hagerty on the left. Hagerty – in one motion – caught the ball and flipped it toward the basket, where it went in.
But the officials ruled that the ball was still in his hand when the buzzer went off. The Hawks’ elation quickly turned to disbelief, as Hope celebrated the dramatic win.
“I know there’s no instant replay in high school basketball, but it was close,” Gomes said. “I don’t know exactly if he got it off or he didn’t.”
While the controversial buzzer beater was one thing the Hawks could point to that didn’t go their way, there were also plenty of self-inflicted issues.
Hendricken missed 12 free throws in the game, including 11 in the second half. It was just 10-of-22 from the foul line.
“We take more free throws than I think anybody in the state, and we work on layups every day,” Gomes said. “That was our big deficiency as a team this year.”
In the first half, Hendricken got out to an 8-2 lead and went into halftime ahead 22-17, but it felt like it left a bunch of points on the court. Early in the second half, the Hawks were a step slower than the fast-paced Blue Wave, as Hope scored eight of the first 10 points to seize control.
“If you don’t run the floor against these guys you’re going to be in trouble,” Hope head coach David Nyblom said. “We started out the second half really well, getting some easy hoops.”
Eventually the Hawks came back, but it was too little too late.
Hope advanced to its second consecutive Final Four, having lost in the championship game to Central last season. The Blue Wave also reached the D-I finals earlier this month and knocked off Classical.
The Blue Wave went 9-9 in the regular season, just like Hendricken, but have made a habit of coming alive in big postseason moments. They went 9-9 last season as well.
“These kids have done this for two years,” Nyblom said. “Last year we made a run, and every game was decided on a last second shot. They really, really play hard. They believe in each other.”
Manny Kargbo led hope with 15 points, while Clements added 13.
Hope beat Coventry 65-63 in the Round of 16. It will now play No. 3 seed North Kingstown – which beat Barrington on Sunday – in the state semifinals on Friday at URI’s Ryan Center at 6 p.m.
The other semifinal will feature top-seeded Classical – which beat Westerly on Sunday – and No. 5 North Smithfield – which disposed of Prout in the quarterfinals – and it will also be played on Friday. That game is at 8 p.m.
The finals will be Sunday at the Ryan Center at 7:30 p.m.
“The kids, that was the desire all year to get back there,” Nyblom said. “They felt like they left something on the floor last year.”
The state tournament has only existed for three years, but reaching the quarterfinals was the furthest the Hawks have ever gone. They used a strong final seven minutes on Wednesday to beat La Salle in the Round of 16, outscoring the Rams 17-13 over that stretch, although it wasn’t that close, as La Salle hit two late three-pointers. Tavares scored 21 points in that game, while Cummings added 15 and Will Parmlee scored 10.
The last two years, the Hawks were eliminated in the Round of 16.
Hendricken will now say goodbye to four seniors – Cummings, Tavares, Hagerty and Mario McClain – and it will turn the page on a roller coaster season.
“I’ve had a lot of great teams,” Gomes said. “This team ranks up there with my best teams in terms of heart and toughness and the will to battle. And I’ve had some great teams. This team ranks up there with all of them.”