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SMITHFIELD â€“ Thursday night on the Bryant University campus saw St. Raphael meet its maker in the form of a deep-scoring Classical team, something the Saints desperately tried to evolve into over the course of the 2011-12 season.
Alas, it never materialized. The Saintsâ€™ 69-61 loss in the â€śSweet 16â€ť round of the open state tournament served as one final reminder of what can happen when a team puts multiple scoring threats on the floor simultaneously. Thatâ€™s exactly what the upstarts from Classical did by placed four players in double figures led by 26 points from Ismael Batista.
Charles Correa matched Batistaâ€™s output with 26 points of his own on six 3-pointers. Itâ€™s after that were the separation ensues with Classical also receiving steady contributions from Kealen Ives (20 points), Kwani Moreno (12 points) and Toe Terrill (10 points). By comparison, the Saints only had one other player besides Correa go for 10 or more points. That player was Cesar Mejia, a senior who in final high school game finished with 11 points.
In a nutshell, Thursday was a microcosm of what kept the Saints from mounting a serious charge at defending their state title from a year ago. In Correa and Mejia, St. Raphael had a pair of dynamic scorers with an uncanny ability to produce points in bunches. After that, the scoring load drops off immensely, an issue that that became all-too common during the SRAâ€™s 5-5 finish to the season.
The Saints desperately needed someone not named Correa or Mejia step to the forefront and shoulder some of the scoring burden. The problem is that the core group Tom â€śSaarâ€ť Sorrentine relied upon â€“ Davon Robertson, Abdou Bah, Malcolm Williams, Kaseem Sams, Jordan Peguero â€“ were your classic role players who had no trouble deferring to Correa and Mejia. After all, it was the job of SRAâ€™s 1-2 punch to put the ball in the hoop, not theirs.
The problem that cropped up late in the season and continued in the postseason was that the Saints became too predictable offensively. By mid-January there was more than enough data for opposing coaches to get a handle on. Correa and Mejia were the primary focus while the rest of the team was merely riding their coattails.
Soon it became commonplace for teams to overload and run waves of defenders at Correa and Mejia. That in turn forced the pair to work even more hard to produce, which in turn also produced stretches during the course of the game that would feature long-range 3-pointers or wild drives to the basket in hopes of getting bailed out with a call.
Everything came to a head Thursday as Classical negated the scoring power of Correa and Mejia by counting on four players to put the ball through the net on a consistent basis. The perimeter-based attack the Purple featured was extremely effective, particularly when it came to getting to drawing fouls (31 total free-throw attempts with 24 coming in the second half).
â€śOffensively I knew that if we swung the ball and kept them moving side-to-side, we would get some open looks,â€ť noted Classical head coach John Kavanagh. â€śWe really present a lot of matchup of problems for teams because I can spread people out.â€ť
Conversely the Saints kept waiting to see if Correa and Mejia would be able to put the team on their backs for the upteempth time and carry them over the hump. Instead Classicalâ€™s defense followed the blueprint laid out by La Salle, North Kingstown, Hope and Bishop Hendricken â€“ the four R.I.-based teams that beat SRA during the regular season. The Purple forced Mejia and Correa to take tough shots, some of which were out of necessity given that St. Raphael spent most of the second half trying to hold on for dear life after falling behind by 12 points with 4:25 reamining.
â€śYouâ€™re not going to stop Charles or Cesar, but you want to limit them as much as possible,â€ť Kavanagh noted.
Kavanagh was asked about Classicalâ€™s ability to share the wealth offensively in comparison to SRAâ€™s situation of counting on Correa and Mejia. â€śThe thing about St. Rayâ€™s is that they have role players who buy into their role and accept it,â€ť said the coach. â€śWe present a lot of matchups and they are a good matchup for us.â€ť
A year ago the Saints were fortunate to have a third component to compliment Correa and Mejia. His name was Trevor Vasey, a 10-ppg scorer who possessed 3-point range. The search to replace Vaseyâ€™s production was an elusive one for this seasonâ€™s St. Raphael outfit â€“ one of the main reasons why a season that started out so promising ended with a second-round playoff loss.