PAWTUCKET – The head coaches for Pawtucket’s two high school boys’ basketball teams are new this season, but the rivalry between Shea and Tolman is still the same, and last Saturday afternoon’s Division II clash between the two crosstown rivals on the Raiders’ court did not disappoint.
Senior forward Jason Smith Jr.’s three free throws with 27.5 seconds to play in the game turned out to be the points that the Raiders needed in posting a 66-65 victory. That win, along with Shea’s 70-68 victory over South Kingstown on Monday night, raised their overall record to 5-0.
Both Shea head coach James Sorrentine and Tolman head coach Mike Neal, who were ironically assistant coaches on the other teams’ staffs last season, referred to this game as a war and a chess match. They knew the other team well, and their game plans were about changing it up and adding new things and surprises.
With 37.2 seconds remaining in the game the score was tied at 63-63, but less than 10 seconds later, Smith was fouled while trying to bury a three-pointer and he calmly hit all three of his free throws.
Tolman’s leading scorer, junior guard Isaiah Gois, then led his team down the court and ended up scoring the last bucket of the game to make it a one-point contest. The Raiders then inbounded the ball with 1.2 seconds to go, and time expired before the Tigers could get a foul to stop the clock.
“Our guys have been great,” Sorrentine added. “They have been locked in, and they have been working very hard. We came out with the right attitude and the right mentality, and it was a battle. We knew it was going to be a war, so we were prepared for that.”
“This was an amazing game,” Neal said. “The boys left everything on the line on both sides of it. It was an amazing game to be a part of, and it was obviously a little weird being on the other side of this game. This was a challenge I was looking for during my first regular-season game. Obviously, it was not the result I was looking for, but I think (it was a) moral victory, definitely something to build off.”
Defense was key for both teams. Both teams caused many turnovers off steals, as the Raiders came away with 19 and the Tigers had 17.
“It was so fast-paced, I think that our pressure defense really helped us,” Sorrentine said. “We sped them up, which ended up getting us some easy fast-break buckets. But again, this was a war. It was a battle. We rebounded the basketball toward the end there, which helped us. We also turned the ball over early, but in the second half, we did a better job taking care of the ball.”
“My guys were able to adjust on the fly, switching between a box-and-1 and a couple of other defenses that we played,” Neal said. “It was just their ability to recognize it. And shout out to Coach Sorrentine, he was switching it up on the defensive end as well. He gave us a bunch of different looks and kept me on my toes. This wasn’t a basketball game, this was a chess match.”
Tolman took control of the game early and used an eight-point run to take a quick 8-2 lead. The Tigers finished the first quarter with a 22-16 lead, but the Raiders took over in the second, and at halftime, Shea held a 40-37 lead. Not to be outdone, the Tigers regained the lead after three quarters of play, 53-51, but in the end, it was the Raiders’ day.
“We just had that will to win,” Sorrentine said. “We were resilient tonight. We never gave up and just kept battling and fighting. We got down and we had a couple of turnovers, but we didn’t let it get to us. We came out victorious. It was a game of swings, and we were lucky enough to have that last lead.”
While the Raiders, who the previous weekend, won their fourth straight Donaldson-Lynch Memorial Basketball Tournament championship, opened up their D-II season last Thursday with a 61-43 win over Coventry, last Saturday’s game was Tolman’s first in the division, and despite being on the losing end, Neal was still happy with what his team gave him.
“I learned a lot about my team today,” he added. “Regardless of what’s going on, these guys are going to respond. They are going to show up for the moment and they are going to answer the bell. We came back on a run to start the game, they responded, and it was a heavyweight championship fight after that. We all knew it was going to be like that. I’m more than happy with the effort that we had out there tonight.”
Each team had three players score in double digits. The Raiders received a game-high 19 points from senior forward Malik Matanmi, 14 from junior forward Emmanuel Ibidapo, 14, and 12 from Smith, and the Tigers saw Gois score 18 points, junior guard Malik Gelinas add 17, and senior guard Jaiden Perry toss in 15.
“I think we just saw a preview of what we’ll see hopefully at RIC for the D-II championship,” Neal said. “We’ll definitely be seeing each other down the line at the end of the year.”
The Raiders, who will visit Chariho tonight at 7 p.m., were back in their home gym on Monday night to face S.K., and Shea received 26 points from Matamni and 12 from Ibidapo. Thanks to a strong third quarter, the Raiders held a 50-37 lead over the Rebels, but S.K. did its best to come back in the final eight minutes.
The Tigers, who will head to S.K. tonight for a 6 p.m. game, also hosted Coventry on Monday and cruised to an 83-57 victory that saw Gois score 21 points and Perry add 20. Tolman rolled out a 23-7 lead after a quarter of play and never looked back.
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