Toll Gate basketball coach Tom Rayko doesn’t usually track rebounding statistics. He decided during Tuesday’s season opener that he should do it this year.
With this Titans team, he almost has to.
Toll Gate visited rival Warwick Vets for its league opener on Tuesday night and used its height to full advantage, dominating the paint and the glass on its way to a 68-42 victory over the ’Canes. Seniors John Coleman and Tyler Inkley both had double-doubles, with Coleman scoring a game-high 21 and Inkley adding 14.
“I’m going to start keeping rebounding stats for them,” Rayko said. “Normally we don’t, because we haven’t had guys like that. Those guys are going to get double-doubles all the time. They’re huge.”
The inside presence paved the way for an early statement. Toll Gate went 15-3 last year but lost a large senior class, including four starters. This year’s team has a very different look, but if Tuesday’s game is any indication, the Titans may have already found the perfect formula.
“I knew a lot of those kids could play, and given the opportunity to do their stuff, they would shine,” Rayko said. “They were behind a team that was really, really talented. We knew coming in we had the height. We knew we wouldn’t have as much speed. The talent’s just different. We’re not flashy. We don’t run a lot of different presses and traps at you like we did last year, but we play good, solid, smart basketball.”
And it was on display Tuesday night. Vets, a team with high hopes of its own, trotted out a starting lineup featuring three sophomores and two juniors. From the get-go, Toll Gate’s bigger, more experienced front line had its way. The Titans used a pair of 10-0 runs to take a 16-point lead into the break. They pulled down 12 offensive rebounds in the first half, had 12 second-chance points and scored 24 of their 36 points in the paint.
“They’re a tall, aggressive team and we’re not,” said Vets coach Chris LeBlanc. “We’re young, but we’ve got to do a better job on the glass.”
Vets scored the first points of the game, but Toll Gate responded with the first of its 10-0 runs. Inkley had two buckets inside, Coleman scored on a follow and hit a free throw and Kyle Toolin converted a three-point play on a drive to the basket as the Titans jumped in front 10-2.
Vets made it 10-9 thanks to three-pointers by Scott Camara and Josh Muto, but the Titans quickly scored five straight on a bucket by Inkley and a three by Derryck Anderson. After a Carter Thomas free throw cut it to 15-10, the Titans put together another 10-0 run.
Inkley and John Murphy scored on put-backs, with Murphy also hitting three free throws. Toolin capped the run with a three-pointer that made it 25-10 with 5:48 left in the first half.
During that run, Vets went almost four minutes without a field goal. That was doubly bad for the ’Canes, since they’re a team that likes to press. Without baskets, they couldn’t set it up.
“We shot 20 percent in the paint,” LeBlanc said. “We were 7 for 35 in the paint. I don’t know if we were intimidated by them or what. I’m hoping it’s first-game jitters because we’re better than this. We did okay outside the arc, but we had a lot of mental mistakes in the first half.”
Toll Gate pushed the lead to 20 with a quick 7-0 spurt late in the half, capped by a Ben Mann layup. After Vets scored six in a row to cut it back to 14, Coleman scored twice inside to make it 36-18. Thomas scored in the final seconds for Vets, but the Titans still went to the locker room with a comfortable lead.
Inkley had 13 points in the first half, Coleman had seven and Murphy tallied five.
“The big men – not only being able to put the ball in the basket – but their interior passing was extremely good,” Rayko said. “They played very well.”
It continued after halftime, with Coleman carrying the torch. After an Inkley free throw, Coleman scored his team’s next 13 points over a five-minute span. He scored twice on follows – turning one into a three-point play – and he also hit four jump shots.
“They’re just great, because they can all step out and shoot the ball too,” Rayko said. “It makes them really tough. They can score inside and they can hit jump shots.”
Vets hit a pair of threes early in the second half, but Coleman’s burst upped the Toll Gate lead to 22 at 50-28 with 9:21 left in the game.
The Titans could coast from there.
In addition to the big games from Coleman and Inkley, Toolin hit three three-pointers and tallied 16 points. Mann scored seven, while Murphy and Anderson had five each.
Toolin and Mann, two more seniors who have had to wait their turn, alternated point guard duties and ran the show effectively.
“Their chemistry is great,” Rayko said. “They really work well together.”
For Vets, Camara led the way with 11 points and Muto, a sophomore, tallied nine. Remak and Colby Menard had six each.
As expected, the ’Canes – with just two seniors on the roster – had some growing pains. LeBlanc would like his team to get through them quickly.
“I’m tired of using it as an excuse already, because these guys have played a lot,” he said. “They’ve played more than many of the senior teams I’ve had. We should be doing better than this right now.”
The ’Canes will return to action Friday when they visit Juanita Sanchez at 7 p.m. They’ll return home Tuesday for another cross-town rivalry game, this one a 7 p.m. tilt against Pilgrim.
Toll Gate also has another big one coming, as Pilgrim visits the Titans on Friday at 7 p.m.
“I feel good,” Rayko said. “I’ll enjoy it for another couple of hours. Then we have another rivalry game against Pilgrim on Friday night, so I won’t be sleeping for a few days until we get that done.”