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Easy does it: Shea handily wins tourney opener

February 24, 2012

Shea High's Eli Itkin (4) sails to the hoop for an easy layup against Johnston High’s Evan Hopson (32) during the first half of Friday night’s playoff opener. Shea won, 84-50.

PAWTUCKET – To borrow from the office supply story Staples, “That was easy.”
Almost too easy if you’re Shea High, which in its playoff opener rolled to a 84-50 final at the expense of an overmatched Johnston High squad Friday night at “The Cage.” The 34-point drubbing vaults Shea, the No. 8 seed in the 30-team open state tournament, into the Round of 16 on Tuesday night at CCRI-Warwick. There the Raiders will face Rogers, which defeated Middletown, 69-43.
“We were ready to play; it’s playoff basketball,” offered Shea head coach Matt Pita with a smile. “We stuck to the game plan and executed very well.”
With usual suspects Jordy Brito and Michael Neal running the show, the Raiders blew past their opponent with relative easy. The 25th-seeded Panthers trailed 29-22 at 6:19 of the opening half when the home team seized control for good, ripping off a 20-5 blitzing that made it a runaway at the break, 49-27 in favor of Shea.
Besides the game’s lopsided nature, what made Friday’s performance standout from a Shea standpoint is that Pita’s club made it a point to run as often as possible. With Brito at the controls, the Panthers simply did not possess anyone who could stay in front of the senior, which in turn allowed Brito to have free rein to attack the rim or look to get his teammates involved, a knack that just might be the guard’s best feature.
Brito racked up a full night’s work by the time he exited with 10 minutes to go, collecting 18 points on three 3-pointers with eight assists. His primary running mate Neal added 20 points and 11 rebounds while junior Eli Itkin notched 12 points.
“He’s hit his stride,” said Pita about Neal, who became eligible to play at midseason.
The Panthers, who committed 13 first-half turnovers, received 10 points from Evan Hopson. “We wanted to put pressure on their guards,” Pita noted. “Defense set the tone.”
Neal was the last starter to be pulled by Pita at the 8:04 mark of the second half. At that point the Raiders were well on their way to advancing out of the Round of 30, up 67-44. Shea took its first 30-point with 3:45 remaining when reserve Ellis Smith knocked down a three.
The Raiders and Vikings, seeded ninth, met once during the regular season with Shea holding on for a 64-62 home win back on Jan. 6. The game saw Brito break a 60-all deadlock with a 3-ball coming with 1:37 remaining.

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