Toll Gate’s overall goal is improvement, and though the win-loss record hasn’t caught up, the young Titans took a step forward in Friday’s loss to Mt. Hope.
After scoring 38 and 36 points in their first two league games, the Titans started hot against the Huskies and finished with a season-high 51 points. It wasn’t good enough for a win as the Huskies pulled away for a 69-51 victory, but it was all head coach Tom Rayko could ask for.
“After tonight’s game, I do feel good,” Rayko said. “I liked the intensity. Granted, it got away from us through the middle of the second half and I thought some of the kids were tired. I know everybody was kind of beat. But I think it is something to build on for our team.”
The Titans fell to 0-3 in league play and 0-5 overall. Mt. Hope improved to 3-1 in league play. Kyle Valenzuela led all scorers with 25 for the Huskies, including 14 points in 15 attempts from the free throw line. Matt Scott added 20. Zach Bacon led the Titans with 14.
Toll Gate started as well as it has all season, racing to a 12-3 lead and pushing it to 17-8 with 11:16 left. The Titans made five of their first six shots, including three-pointers from Matthew Keller, Jacob Johnson and Bacon.
“We just came out flat,” said Mt. Hope head coach John McDonough. “Toll Gate is always going to come out and hustle. They came out and hustled and our guys didn’t. After a while, we started working our plays and things just started to work out for us.”
The turnaround began at the free throw line. Mt. Hope consistently drove to the basket and drew fouls on the Titans, who were whistled for 13 first-half fouls. The Huskies were in the bonus at the 10:45 mark, and the parade to the stripe accounted for 11 points in a game-changing 19-0 run.
“Once we started to run and started to drive on them, they had some problems,” McDonough said. “We had quick kids and we work on driving to the basket. We’re just not going to let you off the hook. The first half, we went to the line a lot simply because we’re going to the basket.”
The Titans were also called for two technical fouls, and didn’t help themselves defensively. Rayko said the focus was on slowing down Scott, one of the top players in the division, but the other Huskies got to the basket at will.
“In the first half, we kind of pushed it out on the ball too far and extended too high,” Rayko said. “We kind of mis-read that, and that helped them get to the paint a little more. That was an adjustment we had to make.”
The 19-0 run gave Mt. Hope a 27-17 lead. Kyle McGuire ended it with a three, but the Titans never got closer than seven the rest of the way. Late in the first half, the Huskies hit a drought but the Titans couldn’t capitalize. They went 3:30 without a point.
Mt. Hope then broke the game open with a 9-0 run in the final two minutes of the half. Uzair Ayaz hit a three at the buzzer, but the Titans still went to halftime trailing 41-28.
In the second half, Toll Gate hung around for the first seven minutes, even trimming the lead to eight on a Burt Lu bucket with 9:02 left. Just eight seconds later, Nick Murgo scored at the other end, touching off another Huskies run. They out-scored the Titans 11-0 over the next two minutes to put the game away.
“I thought Toll Gate came out here and hustled,” McDonough said. “When they played Warwick Vets, they scored 38, but I watched them hustle that game. It might be kind of a down year for them, but they won’t be down for long.”
Bacon’s 14 points were a welcome sight, since he’s been out with an ankle injury. He hit three three-pointers.
“He’s been out for about a week and a half, so he’s still not even really 100 percent,” Rayko said. “He’s playing well. I definitely thought he looked good tonight.”
Rayko also praised Ayaz for his defensive work against Scott.
“I thought he did a great job on the kid Matt Scott,” Rayko said.
Johnson added 10 points for Toll Gate, while Adam Brice and Lu had six each. McGuire and Ayaz tallied five apiece.
The Titans will look to bounce back in a non-league game Wednesday against West Warwick. Division III play resumes Friday with a 7 p.m. home game against Moses Brown.
“Like I just told them in the locker room, this was only the third league game we’ve played,” Rayko said. “We’ve got a lot of basketball left.”