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KINGSTON â Just what exactly can North Smithfieldâs princes of the hardwood expect at URIâs Ryan Center on Friday?
Upon some discussion with two area Division I boysâ basketball head coaches whose teams squared off against Classical this winter, the general consensus is that if North Smithfield so much as sneezes the wrong way, T.J. Ciolfiâs crew could end up trapped in a spider web with little or no chance of escape.
The top-seeded Purple may as well be Rhode Islandâs version of â40 Minutes of Hellâ â a stop-dead-in-oneâs-tracks slogan made popular by longtime Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson, where ball-hawking defense and fast-paced offense are the calling cards. With all due respect to the other semifinal matchup in Hope-North Kingstown, Classical is hands down the most dynamic and explosive team North Smithfield has or will potentially run up against during this open state championship.
Not too many high school teams around here can insert three proven scorers on the floor at the same time, but Classical can stake such a claim. In tri-captains Kealen Ives, Ismael Batista and Terrill Toe, head coach John Kavanagh doesnât have to fret about point production. The Purpleâs version of the Big Three is a scoring machine where all of them can pop for 20 or more points on a given night, a scary proposition that St. Raphael head coach Tom âSaarâ Sorrentine and East Providenceâs Alex Butler are all too familiar with.
Sorrentine could only watch on Jan. 9 as Ives, Batista and Terrill combined for 50 points in a 59-41 romp over SRA. It should be noted that the Saints played the Purple minus senior playmaker Charles Correa, who was still working his way back from a broken bone in his right hand.
Sorrentine was also reminded of Classical pinning a 69-61 defeat on St. Raphael in the 2012 state playoffs. Batista torched the twines for 26 points with Ives (20 points) and Terrill (10 points) proving tough covers as well.
âAny time a team has three guys who can score, you can pretty much win,â stated Sorrentine matter-of-factly. âThey are tough to defend.â
East Providence faced Classical twice during the regular season. In the Jan. 29 meeting, Butler remembers the Purple pulling away late to secure a 55-43 triumph. The rematch on Feb. 13 featured Toe going on a scoring spree â 27 points on six 3-pointers â while Batista and Ives each added 18 points. The Townies couldnât match fire with fire in a 72-55 loss.
âPeople talk about Classical in the half-court, but you canât let them get in transition,â said Butler, the voice of experience clearly apparent in his tone. âIf you allow those guys to get up and down the floor and run free, itâs going to be a long, long night.â
Ives leads Classicalâs high-octane attack with a 22 points-per-game average with Toe (19.8) and Batista (18.5) not that far behind. Ives and Toe are the long-range marksmen with 135 treys between them while all three are fully capable of putting the ball on the floor and penetrating.
âBatista is tough on the baseline; heâs murder down there,â Sorrentine said. âThey look to drive when they can. If not, theyâll shoot the three.
âTheyâre athletic kids and hard to corral.â
So much in fact that Sorrentine mentioned the Northmen can ill afford to lose sight of the Purpleâs Big Three once the ball heads toward the rim. âThose guys do rebound. Theyâre hard to find when the shot goes up. They follow their shot.â
While Classicalâs scoring averages fall off considerably after the primary options, it should be noted that big men Tom McKiernan and Oscar Morales serve a pretty important purpose.
âThey set screens and then roll and they set another screen and roll again,â said Sorrentine. âIf thereâs a double, (a member of Classicalâs prolific three-pronged unit) will give it up to them.â
Added Butler, âDonât think for a second that (McKiernan and Morales) know that not a lot of people give them credit for the dirty work they do. Those kids do a nice job playing off the screen-and-role and will finish around the rim.â
Is there a way to knock Classical â a team that averaged exactly 70 ppg in the regular season and 62.6 in five playoff encounters â off its axis? One thing is certain â the matchup zone that is North Smithfieldâs defensive bread and butter will be put to the test.
âYouâve got to blitz and make them work coming off those ball screens and force the ball out of their hands so that other guys become ball-handlers,â was the remedy Butler offered.
There have been 15 occasions this season where Classical has permitted 60 or fewer points. Such a lengthy list of stinginess suggests that the Purpleâs reign extends to the other side of the floor, yet Sorrentine did detect a flaw that North Smithfield will undoubtedly do its best to exploit.
âTheyâll probably play man-to-man; theyâre quick and get right up on you,â said the veteran mentor, âbut you can get some backdoor stuff.â
At this point, finding out about a chink in mighty Classicalâs armor has to provide North Smithfield with the belief that despite being underdogs, the Northmen have more than a puncherâs chance against Goliath.