With Toll Gate trailing by 18 points late in the first half of Tuesday’s game at Warwick Vets, Titans’ head coach Tom Rayko knew his team just needed to settle down to get back in the game.
The Titans took it a step further. They certainly settled down, and then they blew the ’Canes out of the water.
Toll Gate scored 53 of the game’s final 61 points, turning a 30-12 deficit into a 63-38 victory. In the second half, the Titans outscored Vets 43-8.
“I’d have to say it probably was (one of the best halves of the year),” Rayko said. “They just definitely put their foot on the gas pedal and never turned around.”
Toll Gate improved to 11-1 in Division III with the win, while Vets fell to 3-9.
For the majority of the first half, the ’Canes looked poised for the upset in front of a big crowd against their city rival. They went down 5-0, but then went up 8-7 on a 3-pointer from Brandon McGuire and controlled the play from there.
McGuire hit three 3-pointers in the half, and Dom Malaga and Greg Bennett each added one as well. The Titans, meanwhile, turned the ball over 10 times before halftime.
“It’s always a battle when we go at it,” Vets head coach Chris LeBlanc said. “It’s a shame that Pilgrim is in the other division, because that’s a fun game, too. But we’re always ready for whoever we play.”
As the first half wound down, Toll Gate seemed to find its footing. Trailing by that 30-12 score, the Titans scored the final eight points of the half to make the score at the break a very manageable 30-20.
“I told them at halftime, ‘That’s all you need to do in the second half,’” Rayko said. “‘That same controlled pressure, both offensively and defensively, and we should climb right back into the game. Hopefully, we’ll get a win.’”
Rayko didn’t have to hope for very long. Toll Gate quickly started to dominate.
Jevonta Gonsalves began the half with a shot from beyond the arc, and Austin Abramson converted a layup following a Vets turnover to cut the deficit to five.
Will Remak got the ’Canes back on track with a three-point play, but that marked the last time Vets had anything to cheer about for a long time.
With Vets up 33-25, Toll Gate went on a 25-0 run over the next eight minutes.
Ben Mann started the stretch with one free throw, and Tyler Inkley and Gonsalves each scored on layups to get the Titans within three. Abramson added a layup, and a putback by Colin Stamps with 10:23 remaining gave Toll Gate a 34-33 advantage, its first lead since 5-3.
“Once we did slow down and work our big guys, utilize our guards better, we were definitely able to settle in and control the game,” Rayko said.
But it didn’t stop there.
The ’Canes went 12 more consecutive possessions without scoring. Toll Gate, on the other hand, seemed to score at will. Abramson led the way with nine points during the Titans’ 25-point surge, while Stamps scored six and Gonsalves and Inkley each added five.
By the time Vets scored again – at the 5:55 mark, on two free throws from McGuire – Toll Gate was leading 50-33 and the game was well out of hand.
Starting when the ’Canes held that 30-12 lead, they scored a total of three points over the next 12:34 of game time, and they were outscored 38-3.
Vets made a total of two field goals after halftime.
“We couldn’t score in the second half, that was the bottom line,” LeBlanc said. “I think we got the same looks we did in the first half, they just didn’t go in.”
The ’Canes never got back into the game, as 15 points was the tightest margin the rest of the way.
“I thought it was one of our typical games,” LeBlanc said. “We can’t string together 32 minutes of good basketball. I think a lot of that has to do with experience issues. But we’re going to keep going out there and doing the best we can.”
Abramson led the Titans with 14 points, while Gonsalves and Mike Reyes each scored 11. Inkley had eight points, Stamps had seven and Nick Carr added five.
Ethan Dujon, Toll Gate’s leading scorer at 15.1 points per game, battled foul trouble the whole night and barely played in the second half. He finished with just four points.
But, as it turned out, the Titans didn’t need him.
“He picked up two early fouls, then we sent him out and he picked up his third foul,” Rayko said of Dujon. “Then he picked up that fourth foul early in the second half. Guys stepped up. Ben Mann stepped up, Tyler Inkley stepped up. They did a wonderful job.”
McGuire had a game-high 16 points for Vets, and Malaga added nine points – all in the first half. Remak had seven.
Vets has now lost two games in a row after winning two in a row prior to that. It has a chance to get back into the win column today, though, when it travels to winless Our Lady of Fatima for a 7 p.m. start.
Toll Gate earned its seventh consecutive win since losing to undefeated Prout on Jan. 6. It will be off until Monday, when it hosts 9-3 Juanita Sanchez at 7 p.m. Fatima will then come to Toll Gate on Tuesday for a 6 p.m. game.