The Bishop Hendricken basketball team hadn’t been blown out all season entering Friday’s Division I semifinal game with top-seeded La Salle.
The Hawks can’t boast about that anymore. They’re just happy it happened when it did, and not on an even bigger stage.
In front of a capacity crowd at CCRI, the Rams used an explosive first five minutes to take a 12-point lead and fourth-seeded Hendricken never got back within single digits the rest of the way. When the dust settled, La Salle had a 78-62 victory that wasn’t even as close as the score indicates.
From start to finish, it was all Rams.
“All the credit to La Salle,” said Hendricken head coach Jamal Gomes. “They played a phenomenal game. They simply wanted it more than us tonight. Defensively, we didn’t do the job. Offensively, we couldn’t make layups.”
La Salle went on to capture the D-I title on Sunday with a 62-53 victory over North Kingstown in the championship game, and the Rams will be the No. 1 overall seed when the all-division state tournament begins later this week. They’ll play No. 16 Middletown in the Round of 16 on Thursday.
“Ask my team if they’re satisfied,” said La Salle head coach Eric Simonelli. “It’s a big win tonight in a big rivalry game, but we’ve got a lot more in us. This isn’t the state championship tonight. We’re not satisfied yet.”
Hendricken is the No. 5 seed in the state tournament, and will open up on Wednesday against 12th-seeded East Greenwich at 6 p.m. at CCRI in Warwick. The Avengers went 18-0 in Division III before losing to eventual D-III champion Juanita Sanchez in the semifinals of the division tournament.
The winner of the Hendricken-EG game will play at Brown University on Sunday against the winner of West Warwick-Mt. Hope.
The Hawks know they’ll have to play significantly better than they did on Friday to advance that far.
“Sometimes you get punched in the face,” Gomes said. “The good thing is that it happened here, now, in divisionals. It’s not the state tournament and our season. We have a chance to regroup from this and hopefully learn from it.”
The Rams lost only one time in the regular season, but Hendricken played them tough on Feb. 16 in an eventual 76-66 La Salle win.
Even with Hendricken coming off an impressive 59-42 win over Smithfield in the D-I quarterfinals on Wednesday, Friday’s match-up was no contest. After Garfield Coustard gave the Hawks a 1-0 lead with a free throw on their opening possession, La Salle scored the next five points on a driving layup by Keon Wilson and a three-pointer by Adrian LaFleur. Justin Mazzulla got Hendricken back on the board with a putback two possessions later, but LaFleur buried another three and Michael McCourt converted a layup off a Hendricken turnover to put the Rams up 10-3.
The Hawks took a timeout to regroup, but never really did.
“Big games, playoff games, you’ve got to be able to bring it at both ends of the court,” Simonelli said. “Obviously positive energy is important. Our kids responded.”
La Salle didn’t let up. The Hawks turned the ball over out of the timeout, and the Rams knocked down a three-pointer. Matt Duffie hit two free throws for Hendricken, and the teams then traded buckets, but Wilson scored on a drive and McCourt converted an old-fashioned three-point play. Scott Deffley hit two free throws and LaFleur hit one, putting La Salle on top 23-11.
The Rams scored on eight consecutive possessions.
“The defense leads to the offense,” Simonelli said. “We did a great job in the first half of keeping them pretty much in the teens, they were in the low 20’s. When we’re able to get stops and go the other way, we’re able to play our game.”
It only got worse. Wilson hit another three, Deffley hit a three and LaFleur added another as well. Wilson converted an old-fashioned three-point play, and Hendricken missed eight of nine shots during a five-minute span. With 3:47 to play in the half, La Salle led 39-14.
“Our guys know, we tell them all the time, playoffs come down to your ability to make layups,” Gomes said. “It all comes down to the fundamentals. Layups, free throws, rebounding. La Salle out-rebounded us – they had multiple second, third shot opportunities, got to the loose balls. I just thought they over-will powered us.”
Hendricken went into halftime trailing 43-23. La Salle shot 15-of-31 in the half, including 6-of-12 from three-point range.
The Hawks meanwhile were just 6-for-29 from the field.
“We missed 22 layups,” Gomes said. “Twenty-two layups. Twenty-two. The ones that really hurt us we missed when they were going on a run. We had open looks, wide-open, nobody near us, and we’re missing layups.”
Down by 20, the Hawks offense was slightly better in the second half but their press couldn’t turn La Salle over. Instead, the Rams often broke the press near mid-court and converted that into an uncontested layup. Hendricken never got closer than 18 points while the La Salle starters were still in the game.
“We’ve been waiting for this moment for a while,” Simonelli said. “It’s been a journey since we took over at La Salle last year. We’ve been waiting for this moment. We’re excited that we got a big win, but we’re not satisfied yet.”
Wilson had 20 points to lead La Salle, while McCourt had 17 and LaFelur had 12. Doug Harrison chipped in with 10. Hendricken got 20 from Mazzulla, while its leading scorer Duffie was limited to just 13. Will Parmlee had six.
It’s only one game though, as the Hawks will try to put it in the past and focus on the task at hand. East Greenwich should provide a challenge in Wednesday’s first round.
“Truthfully, we’re not about winning divisional championships,” Gomes said. “We want state championships. If it’s going to happen, this is where we learn the lesson. We regroup, we move on.”