The Toll Gate boys’ basketball team fell behind 2-0 to Pilgrim in the first minute of play on Tuesday night in the first round of the Warwick Beacon/Citizens Bank Holiday Classic.
But by the time the Pats scored again, the Titans had already put the game out of reach.
After falling behind by those two points, Toll Gate went on a 21-0 run to take full control. From there on out the score never got closer than 17 points – and the lead grew to as many as 37 – as the Titans soared to a 61-31 victory over the Pats.
With the win, Toll Gate was scheduled to take on Providence Country Day, which beat Warwick Vets on Monday, in the finals of the tournament on Wednesday. Those results were unavailable at press time.
Pilgrim was scheduled to take on Vets on Wednesday in the consolation game.
“We’re pretty confident,” said Toll Gate senior Ethan Dujon, who led all scorers with 21 points. “Coach (Tom) Rayko makes us work very hard in practice. We’re all at the point where we know as long as we work as hard as we can and we play as hard as we can, we should be in every single game, if not winning every single game.”
Dujon scored 14 first-half points, including a personal 9-0 run during Toll Gate’s 21-0 run, to help the Titans seize control.
Junior Jevonta Gonsalves was the team’s second-leading scorer with 13 points, including three three-pointers during a five-possession stretch in the second half.
“Those two can put the ball in the basket, without a doubt,” Rayko said of Dujon and Gonsalves. “They play off each other, too. They can score, they both hit threes, they both get to the paint, they make good passes.”
Jahshaun Jenkins led Pilgrim with nine points, all of which came on three shots from beyond the arc late in the second half.
Offensively, it was a struggle right from the start for the Pats.
“We couldn’t get in any rhythm,” Pilgrim head coach Mike Batalon said. “We didn’t hit open shots that we had. That just got us in a big hole.”
Pilgrim’s biggest problems came as it struggled to penetrate Toll Gate’s 2-3 zone. Once Kaelon Pittman scored on a driving layup to give the Pats the 2-0 lead right off the bat, the Pats missed 14 consecutive shots.
To go with the 2-3, Toll Gate dialed up a full-court press for much of the first half, as well.
“Toll Gate, I give them credit,” Batalon said. “They’re very athletic, they’re very active in their 2-3. They’re long. They disrupted our offense a little bit, but part of it was that we just didn’t hit shots when we had to.”
The Titans also made some plays on the offensive side of the ball.
Senior forward Nick Carr took over early on, as he scored six of Toll Gate’s first 10 points, and also picked up five offensive rebounds over that span.
Although Carr didn’t score for the remainder of the game, he helped the Titans shake off a start in which they missed their first five shots from the field.
“Nick is an animal,” Rayko said. “He can jump, he can get out there, he’s a big strong kid. He’s an absolute animal in the paint.”
After Carr’s third bucket gave Toll Gate a 10-2 lead, Pilgrim called a timeout, but it did nothing to change the momentum.
Right out of the break, Dujon took over, scoring nine consecutive points on four field goals and a free throw.
“Once I get two, three shots in a row, the basket starts getting a little bigger,” Dujon said. “Everything just starts going in.”
The Pats called another timeout when the score was 17-2, but Dujon finished off his 9-0 run immediately afterwards and Pilgrim turned the ball over on three straight possessions, leading to a bucket from Colin Stamps and a 21-2 lead.
Dan Colabella stopped the bleeding for Pilgrim with a putback to make it 21-4, but Dujon immediately hit a three on the next possession to get Toll Gate rolling again.
Moments later, Kyle Toolin hit a three for the Titans, and they eventually went into the half ahead 37-9.
“Sometimes I think too much of your offense can key your defense, when really your defense needs to key your offense,” Batalon said. “We fall into that trap sometimes, when we get frustrated in the offense and it turns into frustration on the defensive end.”
In the second half, Toll Gate opened the lead up to 50-13 on Gonsalves’ third three-pointer before the Pats found a little bit of rhythm offensively.
Pittman scored five points in the second half, while Colabella added four, to go along with the nine from Jenkins.
“I think we moved the ball a little better in the second half,” Batalon said. “We hit some open shots. Hopefully that gives us some confidence.”
For the Titans, the whole game was something to be proud of.
“We’ve got a lot of guys this year who can actually play basketball, which is nice to see,” Rayko said. “We can run our half court sets, we can run some full court fast breaks and we have a good solid defensive philosophy.”
Once the tournament ends both teams will have a few days off before resuming league play.
Toll Gate, which is 3-0 in Division III, hosts Mt. Hope on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Pilgrim, which is 0-3 in Division II, has a non-league game with Division I Cranston East on Friday at home at 7 p.m. before taking on Tolman in a divisional game on Tuesday at home, also at 7 p.m.