The old mantra is that defense wins championships, and the Bishop Hendricken basketball team certainly isn’t struggling on that end of the court. The Hawks are allowing the fewest points per game in Division I.
But to win a championship, Hendricken is going to have to find some offense.
The Hawks shot just 26 percent from the field on Monday night, and despite playing intense defense all night, they fell 44-36 to Mt. Pleasant.
The loss was the second straight for Hendricken, which had won three in a row prior to that. The team is now 5-5 in Division I-South. Mt. Pleasant is 7-3 in D-I-North.
“That’s kind of been our Achilles’ heel the past two years – putting the ball in the basket,” Hendricken head coach Jamal Gomes said. “It wasn’t like we didn’t have plenty of opportunities. Three’s, 15-footers, layups, free throws. Right now, at this point in time, that’s our biggest weakness.”
The 44 points Mt. Pleasant scored was its lowest output of the season. The Kilties have scored as many as 100 points this year.
However, Hendricken’s stout defensive effort was for naught, as the 36 points the Hawks scored was tied for their lowest point total of the season. They also scored 36 in a one-point victory over Hope in their first game of the season on Dec. 11.
At this point, 10 games in to the season, that’s not going to produce many wins, especially against quality opponents like Mt. Pleasant.
“I thought defensively we were fine,” Gomes said. “I told them in the locker room, defensively we were where we needed to be. Skill-wise, offensively, we need a lot of improvement.”
The Hawks started out well enough, getting buckets by Will Parmlee, Ryan Hagerty and Will Tavares to take a 6-5 lead in the opening minutes. Yet, once Mt. Pleasant went up 7-6 on a fast-break layup from Joseph Putu, Hendricken never led again.
The Kilties extended their lead to as many as nine points in the first half, and went into the break leading by that number, 24-15.
In the half, the Hawks turned the ball over 12 times and missed all seven three-pointers they took.
“I thought we got a little too perimeter happy tonight,” Gomes said. “We’re not really a great perimeter shooting team. Fifteen feet and in, we’re pretty tough.”
The second half was a similar story. Hendricken kept Mt. Pleasant off balance with strong defense, but the Hawks just couldn’t take advantage. They missed two more three-pointers in the opening minutes of the half, and didn’t score until three minutes had come off the clock.
And despite holding Mt. Pleasant to just 6-of-22 shooting in the second half, chipping away was difficult. At the 10:28 mark, the Kilties still held a nine-point lead.
Eventually though, the Hawks did mount a charge. Matt Duffie hit one free throw to make it 30-23, and two possessions later Tavares hit two more free throws to make it a five-point game with 7:20 to play. That was the closest Hendricken had been since 20-15.
But on the very next possession, Mt. Pleasant’s Jovel Beckford buried a momentum-changing step-back three-pointer to push the lead back to eight.
“When you’re struggling offensively, and a team goes on a run and gains that separation, it’s tough to recover,” Gomes said. “When you’re battling and rock fighting for every shot that you get, a team goes on a little mini rum and it’s tough to recover from.”
Hendricken made one final push, scoring the next four points when Tavares hit two free throws and Kazre Cummings scored inside with 3:08 left. That cut the deficit to four points at 33-29.
Once again, however, Mt. Pleasant responded. Dontell Rodriguez scored inside and, following a Hawks’ turnover, Juan Velez scored on a fast-break layup to make it 37-29.
Hendricken kept battling, but the Kilties hit seven of eight free throws down the stretch to finish the job.
“I was proud that we played hard,” Gomes said. “Effort from tip to the buzzer was there.”
The Hawks have now scored 50 or fewer points in five games this season. They’ve scored over 60 only once, and they are currently the lowest scoring team in Division I.
The defense has done enough to earn them some wins, but Gomes knows that his team will need to progress offensively if it’s going to be a factor when the postseason comes.
“Hopefully over the course of the season we improve and we’re in a position to have an opportunity to do something when it comes playoff time,” he said.
Cummings scored 14 points to lead Hendricken, while Hagerty scored seven. Tavares – who has been averaging close to 15 per game – scored six, as did Parmlee. Velez and Beckford led the way for Mt. Pleasant with nine points each.
Hendricken was scheduled to take on 1-9 Woonsocket on Wednesday night, with those results unavailable at press time. After that, it will travel to 2-7 Smithfield on Friday for a 7:15 p.m. game. On Monday, the Hawks will host 8-2 La Salle at 7 p.m.