PAWTUCKET – Behold the power of defense.
St. Raphael knocked off Smithfield, 73-57, on Saturday afternoon because the Saints got downright defensive in the second half. The teams were deadlocked at 40-all with 12:49 remaining before the Saints dialed up their defense a few notches, resulting in a game-ending 33-17 run.
“Our defense has been pretty good all year. With the exception of a couple of games we’ve held teams to under or around 55 points,” said St. Raphael senior Trevor Vasey after completing one of his better varsity games (21 points, four 3-point field goals, nine rebounds and a host of blocks of Smithfield big man Kyle Morvan).
St. Raphael, in maintaining its first-place standing in Division I-East, limited Smithfield to just 21 field goal attempts in the second half. The remainder of the Sentinels’ possessions culminated in either stops by Vasey, Davon Robertson and Ben Pillsbury or steals by the quick-handed Charles Correa.
In short, it was exactly the kind of game Tom “Saar” Sorrentine wanted to see from his SRA outfit. Smithfield (5-4 Div. I-North) boasts one of the better players in the state in Morvan, a rugged 6-foot-4 senior who knows how to create position down on the blocks. What makes Morvan an even tougher cover is that he’s usually surrounded by long-range threats like Connor Bouchard.
The two Sentinel players took turns in making noise inside the Wellness Center; Morvan tossing in 18 points while Bouchard nailed five triples on his way to a team-best 19 points. A closer examination on how Morvan and Bouchard reached their respective point totals reveals the fashion in which the Saints got the job done defensively.
In Morvan’s case, Sorrentine opted to utilize every six-footer on the Saints’ bench, doing so in a confounding fashion. Vasey’s assignment was to draw position in front of Morvan, the aim being to make it difficult for the Smithfield center to receive passes. Robertson (9 rebounds) and Pillsbury would represent the last line of defense, making sure Morvan would not receive any gimmies.
“We wanted to give (Morvan) different looks,” stated Sorrentine after his Saints improved to 6-2 in league play.
Sorrentine’s scheme worked accordingly as Vasey stuffed Morvan on a few occasions, the most notable one transpiring just as the Saints started to break things open in the second half. Robertson and Pillsbury were more than willing to utilize their bodies against Morvan, who was held three points below his scoring average.
“I had confidence I could play (Morvan),” said Vasey. “He’s real strong to get in front of.”
The Saints opted for a different approach to curb Bouchard’s effectiveness after the Smithfield junior nailed three triples in the opening half. Led by Correa and Cesar Mejia, St. Raphael made it a point to get its hands sticky. In a flash the clean looks disappeared for Bouchard, as he did not make a long-distance shot in the final 11 minutes.
Sealing up the passing lanes helped ignite an 18-2 Saints’ surge, with Correa serving as the primary catalyst. The sophomore, who came off the bench for the first time this season to finish with 12 points and 8 assists, was regularly spotted driving the lane and either dishing off to Mejia (game-high 24 points, 9 rebounds) or finishing himself. The result was a commanding 62-45 advantage for the home team with 5:25 left.
“We think we’re more athletic than any team we’ll face,” said Vasey, who had 14 points by halftime. “With Charles we like to push the ball because he’s definitely a good passing point guard.”
Added Sorrentine, “All you have to do is get ahead of (the opposing defense) and you’ll get the ball.”
Sorrentine has gone on record in saying that St. Raphael is at its optimum when Correa is getting from Point A to B in a nanosecond and wing options Mejia and Terrence Manning are filling the lane or Vasey is set up beyond the perimeter. If the Saints can bottle up the defense they put forth in the second half Saturday and unveil it every time out, then perhaps something special could be on the horizon.