The Bishop Hendricken basketball team led by as many as 17 in the second half of Friday’s game but watched St. Raphael trim the deficit all the way to four with six minutes left. The defending state champion Saints had turned up the pressure, and Hendricken was holding on for dear life.
And then the Hawks realized something.
“Kazre Cummings, our best defender, looked at us and said, ‘You guys act like we’re losing,’” said junior forward Lee Messier “And everybody was like, ‘Yeah, we’re up by four. What are we doing?’ Our mentality was that it was a 0-0 game, and we needed to work as hard as we could to come out with a win.”
Pretty soon, the Hawks were doing just that.
On the heels of a 13-2 Saints run that made it 51-47, the Hawks reasserted themselves with a 10-2 burst. The Saints never got within single digits again and the Hawks came away with a 68-52 victory. It’s their 10th consecutive league win since a 1-4 start.
“Our team has just come so far,” said Hendricken head coach Jamal Gomes. “We had some tough losses in December, but we’re healthy now. Our offense has ratcheted up and we always play defense.”
That’s been a formula for major success. Included in the 10-game win streak are victories over 12-3 Central and now 12-3 St. Ray’s. At 11-4, the Hawks now have the fifth-best record in Division I.
“It’s just all around teamwork,” Messier said. “We have the best defense in the state, I think. We struggled with offense in the beginning, but everyone has been stepping up.”
That led to another big performance in Friday’s game.
The Hawks shot 50 percent from the field in the first half and steadily opened up a double-digit lead. Even when center Nick Bourdeau went to the bench with foul trouble, the Hawks got six points from sub Julian Mardenli and continued to keep the Saints at arm’s length. Cummings buried a three with 1:02 left in the half to give the Hawks their largest lead at 33-20.
While the offense was clicking, the defense was in control. The Hawks stayed away from their trademark full-court press in favor of a 2-3 zone, and it seemed to pay dividends. Hendricken limited Saints stars Charles Correa and Cesar Mejia to a combined nine points in the first half.
“St. Ray’s is a great team,” Gomes said. “They have two of the best players in the state. We felt we had to do our best defensively to contain those two guys, and I thought we did. My guys responded very well.”
Hendricken built its lead to 17 early in the second half on threes by Cummings and Messier, but soon enough, the Saints were making their run. Trailing by 15 with nine minutes left, the Saints went to a full-court press and limited the Hawks to one field goal over the next four minutes. In the same span, they got their offense in gear and cut the lead to four on two Mejia free throws with 5:57 left.
“I told our guys, ‘We weren’t going to expect them not to make a run. They’re a great team,’” Gomes said. “It was just a matter of us taking care of the basketball and playing under control to stem the tide. They were scoring baskets off our turnovers and rushing us.”
The Hawks didn’t immediately settle down – they committed a turnover on their next possession. But Gerry Manning blocked a shot by Correa at the other end, and Messier stopped the run when he buried a three-pointer from the left wing with 4:55 left, making it a seven-point game.
The Saints got it back to five when they scored off a Hendricken turnover, but Messier answered with another three to make it an eight-point game.
“Messier hit two dagger threes,” Gomes said. “That kind of got us back under control.”
And it was smooth sailing from there. After a missed three by the Saints, Manning found Mardenli for a run-out layup to push the lead to 10. Bourdeau scored inside to make it 12, and the Hawks then made seven of 10 free throws in the final 1:39 to seal the victory.
Messier led all scorers with 22, while Bourdeau added seven. Cummings had nine, Mardenli scored eight and Corey Palumbo chipped in seven. Correa and Mejia had 14 each to lead the Saints.
The Hawks won’t have too much time to bask in the glow of their latest big win, but they’ll have a chance for another one tonight. Hendricken hosts 13-2 North Kingstown, who has the best record in Division I, at 7 p.m.
“Now we’ve got North Kingstown, who’s No. 1,” Gomes said. “It should be another great game. I’m just proud of my team because we’re getting better every game, every practice.”