NORTH PROVIDENCE â€“ Avalanches are known for their fast-moving nature. They are also quite destructive, which Tolman High can attest to.
The rumbles of eventual ruin transpired in the opening five minutes of the second half, host North Providence High going on a game-changing run that made all the good work Tolman had put forth in the opening half a distant memory. By the time the last bit of debris fell onto the hardwood on Friday night, the Tigers found themselves tunneling out from an 80-66 defeat.
In the blink of an eye Tolman (8-6 Division II-East) went from standing side-by-side with division-leading North Providence to being completely out of this pivotal contest. The teams opened the second half knotted at 35-all, though it should be noted the Tigers were the ones in control for virtually the entire first half, ripping off the gameâ€™s first nine points before enjoying leads of 24-18 and 30-25 later on.
Why the contest changed so dramatically was easy to see. The Cougars made it a point to double up Tolman big man Elijah Wiggins, who enjoyed a 14-point outburst in the first 16 minutes. It was one of those pick-your-poison decisions for North Providence head coach Paul Rizzo, who was aware that Tolman guard Jeremy Graca had also sliced and diced his way to 17 first-half points. Rizzo opted to stay at home on Tolmanâ€™s guard crew, which resulted in a quick-trigger Tiger offense that didnâ€™t please head coach Mike Kayata at all.
All told Tolman began the second half in a 1-for-9 shooting slump that also featured seven turnovers. At the same moment North Providence was reaping the benefits of an 18-5 run that saw the hosts go up 57-40 at the 8:40 mark.
â€śWe know (Tolman) has a few quick guards, so we were off them and making them beat us from the outside,â€ť said Rizzo, his Cougars now 11-3 in league play. â€śPlus we started making shots, which always helps out.â€ť
Said Kayata about what North Providence hit his club with, â€śWe went back to pass and shoot. We didnâ€™t execute our half-court offense. I donâ€™t think we played that tough on the defensive end. I felt we allowed their shooters to get easy looks. It didnâ€™t look like we had the mental fortitude to stay in the game.â€ť
Graca finished with 21 points and five steals while Wiggins collected 19 points and 13 rebounds. Juan Velez, the lone Tiger who contributed anything of substance in the second half, came off the bench to score 17 points. North Providenceâ€™s Michael Ferrante led all scorers with 28 points while Austin Van Bemmelen overcame a foul-plagued first half to notch 23 points.
Asked if he was surprised that Tolman was able to play at the same heightened pace as his club in the first half, Rizzo responded, â€śNo, not at all. I know Tolman is one of the more athletic teams in the state. Mike does a great job with those guys and we knew it was going to be a playoff atmosphere.â€ť
The Tigers made one brief charge after falling behind by a substantial amount, scoring six points in a row to make it 57-46. Thatâ€™s as close as Tolman would come the rest of the way as North Providence went up as many as 20 (74-54).
The performance in the second half paled in comparison with what the Tigers accomplished early on, when Graca attacked the basket at will and Wiggins was having his way down low. The pair combined to score all but four of the Tigersâ€™ 35 first-half points, which in turn allowed Rizzo to pinpoint exactly where the Cougars needed to make adjustments. Graca and Wiggins managed to score just nine points on one made basket in the latter half.
â€śThey couldnâ€™t stop (Wiggins), so why not continue to go through him?â€ť asked Kayata. â€śThey didnâ€™t execute the play properly.â€ť
TOLMAN (66): Troy Sawyer 1 0-0 2, Rodney Bustillo 1 3-4 5, Kevin Coughlin 1 0-0 2, Jeremy Graca 6 7-14 21, Justin Zetina 0 0-0 0, Elijah Wiggins 9 1-2 19, Juan Velez 7 3-4 17. Totals: 25 14-24 66.
NORTH PROVIDENCE (80): Jeffrey Malloney 0 0-0 0, Greg Conroy 0 0-0 0, Austin Van Bemmelen 7 7-7 23, Dillon McCluskie 2 0-0 5, Domenick Coro 4 0-0 8, Michael Ferrante 10 5-8 28, Jacob DiDomenico 5 0-0 10, Michael Corin 2 2-3 6. Totals: 30 14-18 81.
Three-point field goals: T 2 (Jeremy Graca); NP 6 (Michael Ferrante 3, Austin Van Bemmelen 2, Dillon McCluskie).
JV: NP 66-27.