A tale of two halves is a cliché, but it was invented for games like Wednesday night’s Division III quarterfinal match-up between Warwick Vets and Mt. Hope.
The ’Canes shot well and trailed by just points at halftime to the No. 2 seeded Huskies, but Mt. Hope blew the doors off in the second, scoring 47 points en route to a 79-55 win.
The two halves looked like two different games.
“They did run a little bit more,” said Vets head coach Chris LeBlanc. “I think we missed our first few and there was an 11-2 run a little bit and we got down a little bit. We never got it back.”
Vets missed its first 10 shots of the second half, while Mt. Hope made six of first 11. In four minutes, the Huskies turned a 32-30 lead into a 46-31 advantage, and Vets never trimmed the deficit below 15 for the rest of the game.
Mt. Hope had four players in double digits, led by Alex Francis with 20. Vets got 17 from Will Remak, but 12 of those came in the first half, as the ’Canes’ leading scorer struggled to get anything going after the break.
He started off on fire, scoring 10 of Vets first 20 points, giving the ’Canes a 20-19 lead a the midway point of the first half. He hits two threes, as the teams traded blows from beyond the arc. The Huskies and ’Canes each hit five threes in the first half, and it looked like the final 16 minutes would be a dogfight.
“We talked about how Mt. Hope had zero close games – even the games they lost, they lost big – all our games were close,” Leblanc said. “At halftime down by two, I was like, ‘Here we go again, another close game.’”
Instead, it quickly turned into a blowout. The Huskies out-scored Vets 47-25 in the second half in advancing to the D-III semifinals against Middletown on Friday at Rogers Williams University.
Kyle Valenzuela started the period off with an acrobatic old-fashioned three-point play, and Nick Murgo followed that up with a short jumper. Vets, meanwhile, turned the ball over on three of its first four possessions, getting only a point during that time on one Israel Thomas free throw. Another and-one play by Valenzuela put the Huskies up 40-31, and buckets inside by Francis and Jake Foreman suddenly made it 46-31. Francis scored again on a baseline drive two possessions later, and Vets was looking at a 17-point deficit.
“We were ice cold again,” LeBlanc said. “I don’t know if we came out flat, we just came out cold. We tried to go inside, we tried to go outside and we got nothing to fall.”
Remak briefly stemmed the tide with a driving layup – his team’s first field goal of the half – but Francis scored eight consecutive points to keep the ’Canes at bay.
The closest Vets got the rest of the way was 56-40, when Josh Muto hit a three-pointer with 7:15 remaining. Right on cue, though, Mt. Hope scored eight of the next points to make the final five minutes nothing more than a formality.
“I don’t know what happened,” LeBlanc said. “When we played them at our place it was a 10-point game. They took the lead by as much as 13. Then it would be a single digit game.”
A big part of the difference between the halves was Vets’ three-point shooting. In the first half, the ’Canes were five of 12 from beyond the arc. In the second half, they were three for 14, and missed their first four.
When they tried to go inside, Thomas was somewhat successful with 11 points, but it wasn’t nearly enough.
“We tried to go inside and couldn’t anything to inside for us tonight,” LeBlanc said. “I thought we had an advantage inside, but I guess not.”
To go with Remak’s 17 and Thomas’ 11, Muto had 11 and Scott Camara had six.
The loss ended Vets’ season, one in which it registered at least 10 regular season wins for just the third time this century. It also won a playoff game for the first time since 2003-04. Last year, the ’Canes missed the playoffs and won only four games.
Vets will say goodbye to a big senior class, led by Remak, Camara and Justin Batista. Other seniors on the team are Kyle Agin and Tim Hogan.
“All three of those guys – Will, Scotty, Justin – they did a great job for the program,” LeBlanc said. “They made it grow. We’re back to double-digit victories. That’s something we strive for all the time.”