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Tigers embark on 'must win' stage of season

January 31, 2012

Tolman head coach Mike Kayata

Two high school hoops games stand out above the rest tonight. And they’re both Division II crossover contests.
Tolman, 4-7 with seven games left in the regular season, visits Central Falls (6-5) in the first meaningful game. The Tigers seek to end a four-game losing streak that has jeopardized their playoff hopes. Those hopes were not helped on Monday when leading scorer Juan Velez (20.8 points per game) and starting forward Seny Samb, a solid defensive player, were suspended for violating school disciplinary rules.
Division II North leader Cumberland, 7-4, can clinch a berth in the state tourney with a win over playoff-bound Shea (8-3). Teams that win 40 percent of their league games make it into the playoffs, which means an 8-10 record (44 percent) is the target for “bubble” teams like Tolman.
Tolman, with or without Velez and Seny Samb, needs to win four of its remaining games to make the playoffs. The Tigers’ schedule isn’t a slam-dunk. After tonight, they face three teams with winning records. Tolman hosts Cumberland on Friday, North Providence (9-2) on Feb. 14 and Shea (8-3) on Feb. 17.
Tolman entertains winless Scituate (0-11) on Feb. 7 and visits a 1-10 Ponaganset team three days later. The Tigers close their regular season schedule on Feb. 21 at Lincoln, which is 2-9 at the moment.
If one assumes Tolman can handle the three losing teams left on its schedule, that means the Tigers need one more victory over a winning team to reach eight wins. Tonight’s game against Central Falls would be a good place to start. If the Tigers lose that one, they certainly need to find a way to beat Cumberland at home on Friday, otherwise they’re going to have to upset North Providence or Shea to get into the state tourney.
Tolman needs to replace Velez’s 21 points per game tonight. Forward Justin Zetina tossed in 22 last Friday during a 76-70 loss to unbeaten West Warwick. Velez netted 32 in that game but the Tigers only managed 16 points from the rest of their roster.
“That was the best game we played all season,” Tolman coach Mike Kayata said.
Junior center Jonathan Percy went scoreless against West Warwick as the Tigers broke in their new point guard, Napoleon Johnson, who had been ineligible until last week.
“We’re going to need Justin Zetina and everyone else to step up,” Kayata suggested. “Mamour Samb will start in place of Seny Samb.”
If Percy, who is 6-foot-6, can find a way to score inside, Tolman’s offense might pose a lot of problems for opposing teams, beginning with Central Falls. The Warriors, who won four of their first five league games, have a group of fast and athletic players who can run the floor and play tough defense.
Wide-body center Ryan Murray netted 12 points in last Friday’s 55-41 victory over Tiverton. Clifton Johnson provides an outside scoring threat. Steven Vasquez, Josh Brandon, Brandon Canuto and Josh Brandon play supporting roles for the Warriors, who can run eight or nine players into their game rotation.
“We have to play good defense on Murray in the post and then stop Johnson’s outside shooting,” Kayata said.
The Shea-Cumberland game looks to be evenly-matched. The Raiders picked up six-foot-six center Michael Neal last week and he scored 12 points in a 77-74 victory over Westerly. Shea’s offense is run by point guard Jordy Brito, who can both distribute the ball to his teammates and shoot it.
Brito netted 22 points against Westerly in what may have been the Raiders’ most impressive victory of the season. (Westerly came into the game with an 8-2 record, good for second place in Division II-South behind West Warwick (11-0).
Cumberland is a balanced team that sets the tempo of games with its defensive intensity. The Clippers don’t want to get into a fast-paced contest with the Raiders.
In Division I games of interest tonight, St. Raphael Academy (10-1) seeks to bounce back from its first loss of the season when it visits South Kingstown (2-8). East Providence (3-8) visits a Bishop Hendricken (6-4) squad that is just starting to hit its stride. And Woonsocket (1-8) hosts Classical (5-6).
Other Division II action finds Lincoln (2-9) hosting Ponaganset (1-10).
In Division III, North Smithfield (6-4) welcomes Mount Hope (3-8) in a crossover game tonight. The Northmen are coming off a 77-55 road loss to Middletown.
Mount St. Charles (1-10) hosts East Greenwich (5-5) and Burrillville (4-7) is home to Middletown (7-3). Davies (1-7) will entertain unbeaten Prout (11-0) in a 6:15 p.m. game.

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