PAWTUCKET â€“ Friday night saw North Kingstown lay out a blueprint that took St. Raphael Academy far away from its comfort zone. Time will tell if the Saints will be able to react with a counterpunch that places them back in the realm set aside for championship contenders.
Playing exclusively zone, the visiting Skippers grinded out a 50-48 victory that wasnâ€™t secured until the final horn went off. With the Saints forced to go the length of the floor in 4.8 seconds, junior Charles Correa pushed the ball up quickly before letting fly a running 3-pointer that initially bounced hard off the backboard. The ball then hit the front of the rim before popping free.
St. Raphael was out of timeouts, which left the team little choice but to place the ball in the hands of one of its top playmakers, hoping somehow that Correa could deliver. It didnâ€™t help matters that SRA was looking to go after rebounding a missed free throw.
â€śIf he had five seconds, he could have made it to the hoop,â€ť SRA head coach Tom â€śSaar Sorrentine stated afterwards.
Had Correa been able to play the role of hero, thereâ€™s still a bigger picture to consider. SRA was 18-for-48 from the field with Correa and Cesar Mejia combining to take the majority of the shots. Such a development is usually a scary proposition for opposing teams, but N.K. constructed its game plan around the idea of Correa and Mejia receiving plenty of touches.
The Skippersâ€™ zone was effective in that it forced the Saints little choice but to fire away from deep. The driving lanes that Correa normally finds so inviting went missing, hence why St. Raphael nearly had as many 3-point makes (eight) as two-pointers (10). Taking away Correaâ€™s ability to penetrate also proved costly in another area with the Saints attempting just eight free throws. Conversely, North Kingstownâ€™s Evan Scott attempted 10 foul shots by himself.
â€śWe usually play a lot of man-to-man but tonight, knowing that Charles is so creative when he drives, we took a shot in letting him shoot from the outside,â€ť stated Skippers head coach Aaron Thomas. â€śThatâ€™s a risk in itself, but we always tried to have a guy on him and Cesar.â€ť
In a matchup of two division leaders, it was the Skippers who were able to seize control at the gameâ€™s most important juncture. North Kingstown was able to weather a second-half scoreless stretch that lasted 5:11 and saw SRA (11-2, Division I-East) tie the game at 34-34. A three by Correa put SRA up 37-36 before N.K.â€™s Evan Scott took over. The senior was responsible for scoring all 12 of the Skippersâ€™ points in the final six minutes. Scottâ€™s most prolific moment came when he hit a layup over a sprawling Correa to put the visitors up 44-39 with 3:09 to play.
Scott finished with a game-best 18 points, 16 coming after halftime.
The home teamâ€™s deficit remained at five (48-43) with 1:14 remaining before N.K. (11-2, Division I-South) turned the ball over and Correa raced to the hoop for two. A pair of free throws by Scott with 29.5 seconds left pinned the Saints in a five-point hole once more before lightning struck in the form of a 3-pointer from Malcolm Williams. SRA gladly took it as the score read 50-48 with 14.6 seconds remaining.
The Saints had trouble fouling, which explains why Scott didnâ€™t head to the line until 4.8 seconds. Redemption seemed at hand for St. Raphael when Scott missed both, but it wasnâ€™t meant to be.
Both sides struggled to gain any sort of traction with SRA nursing a 16-15 lead late in the first half. The visiting Skippers closed out the final 3:21 on a 7-2 run that resulted in a 22-18 deficit for the home team at halftime.
A three by Michael Scott put the Skippers up 34-26 with four minutes gone by in the opening half. The Saints were able to fight back to the point that they were the ones in front, but the problems that lead to Sorrentine & Co. losing at home for the second consecutive Friday night were still omnipresent.
The lack of a third scorer to relieve some of the pressure off of Correa and Mejia wasnâ€™t a major concern when the Saints were off to a 10-0 start in league play. Now that the mask has been peeled back â€“ Williams was the third-leading scorer with five points â€“ the time has come for someone to step forward and lend a hand to Correa and Mejia, both of whom were held below their season averages Friday night.
Otherwise, the Saints could be in trouble with the state tournament only a few weeks away.