Defense leads the way again as Hawks win third straight
The Hendricken basketball team has long made a name for itself on the defensive end of the floor.
Add Tuesday’s win to the list.
Playing on the road against perennial contender Hope, the Hawks limited the Blue Wave to just 13 points in the second half on their way to a 52-34 win.
Hendricken held Hope to 4-of-24 shooting after the break, and the Blue Wave scored only three points in the first 8:54 coming out of the locker room.
“We knew for us to win this game we had to play tough defense,” said Hendricken head coach Jamal Gomes. “We had to get back to playing gritty, tough defense because Hope is a very dangerous team.”
The Hawks held Hope’s leading scorer, Ben Vezele, to just two points on the day, his lowest total of the year and significantly below his 19.3 average entering the game. His lowest scoring output prior to Tuesday was a 15-point effort against Mt. Pleasant.
Playing an extended 3-2 zone the majority of the game and rotating fresh bodies in continuously, Hendricken forced 23 turnovers. Hope’s Devonte Youn was its only player in double figures with 12 points. No one else had more than seven.
Hendricken also accomplished all of this without the services of guard Kyle Henseler, who missed the game due to a concussion.
“We have a smart team,” Gomes said. “They’re high IQ guys. They’re excellent academic guys, they can follow directions and they can execute. I really thought this was great team win on the road for us.”
With the win, Hendricken improved to 7-1 in Division I-South, trailing only 8-1 Coventry. It was the third consecutive game that the Hawks have held a team to fewer than 40 points, allowing 37, 31 and 34 over that span.
Not coincidentally, all those games have resulted in wins.
“We played fantastic,” Gomes said. “We held a good team to 34 points. I couldn’t be prouder of our guys.”
The 34 points was the lowest total of the season for Hope, by quite a bit. Its previous low was 45 against La Salle. The Blue Wave, which had won three of five games coming in, dropped to 4-6 in Division I-Central.
Hendricken was led offensively by Garfield Coustard, who scored 14 points, 12 of which came in the second half. He scored the Hawks’ first eight points of the half, turning a two-point halftime lead into a seven-point lead that never dipped below that.
“I definitely tried to follow up on my teammates so if they missed I’d be able to put it back up,” Coustard said. “As a team, we just kind of said to win the game we had to get the ball inside. That’s what we did.”
Coustard’s eight points sparked a 19-2 run that proved to be the difference in the game. Leading 23-21 at halftime after Hope closed the first half on a 17-7 run, Hendricken allowed the Blue Wave to get within a point at 23-22 on a free throw from Youn. Coustard, though, found the basket on four of the next five possessions, with Hope getting only a bucket inside by Elijah Lewis during that span, and the Hawks led 31-24.
Two possessions later, Hendricken’s Justin Mazzulla slipped a pass into Matt Duffie inside, and Duffie scored to make it a nine-point game.
That forced the Blue Wave into a timeout. It didn’t help.
Hendricken turned Hope over three times in the next five possessions and continued to convert the chances into points. E.J. Nygren made two free throws, Coustard muscled his way inside for two more, Mazzulla scored on a drive, was fouled and made the free throw and Duffie hit a long baseline jumper. At the 9:44 mark, Hendricken led 42-24.
“I think Hope is a really good team,” Coustard said. “They played well today. In the first half I kind of had to get it going, but then in the second half my teammates got me the ball more and we executed from there.”
The Hawks went cold from there, missing their next three shots and turning the ball over three times on their next six possessions.
But the defense never let up. The 18-point lead stayed exactly the same over the next 2:38, despite Hendricken not scoring a point.
“We just tried to make sure we had five guys in front of them at all times, that every shot was contested and that we were battling,” Gomes said. “We felt like this game would be won or lost on the glass – on the defensive end and on the offensive end.”
Hope finally got on the board with a bucket inside by Quentin Marrow, and that keyed a mini 5-1 run, but it wasn’t nearly enough. The Hawks scored four straight points of their own from there, with Mazzulla hitting two free throws in a one-and-one situation and Duffie hitting two more after that. Hendricken led by as many as 20 on a free throw by Andrew Ciacciarelli before finishing up with an 18-point win.
To go with Coustard’s 14 points, Duffie added 13, Mazzulla scored 10 and Nygren scored six. Ira Lough chipped in with five.
“Today was a big game, and we got the job done,” Coustard said. “After the North Kingstown loss, we’ve been going harder in practice and stuff. We’re trying to win every game out and see where we go from there.”
The Hawks will have a tough test on Friday when they host 6-3 Classical on Friday at 7 p.m. The Purple are the defending state champions and have Kealen Ives, considered to be one of – if not the – top players in the state. Hendricken also has a game on Monday, at home against winless East Providence at 7 p.m.