PAWTUCKET – Tolman High demonstrated the proper way to head into the postseason, dispatching of Ponaganset High, 71-44, Wednesday afternoon at the Donaldson Memorial Gymnasium.
While the brackets for the 10-team divisional tournament were not slated to be complete until late last night, head coach Mike Kayata is going forward under the assumption that Tolman (11-7 Division II-East) will host a preliminary round contest Friday night at 6 o’clock. Who the Tigers draw remains up in the air, though Kayata thinks II-North champ Central Falls is a strong possibility. Tolman and C.F. met back on Jan. 25 in Pawtucket, the Warriors prevailing by a narrow count, 67-66.
Yesterday’s game was also one of great significance for Ponaganset, though for entirely different reasons. The Chieftains needed to win just to force a play-in game on Thursday night. Thanks in large part a monster game by Tolman senior Elijah Wiggins, Ponaganset closed the books on a 7-11 regular season in II-North.
“They’re a good team and they’re fast,” complimented Chieftains head coach Mike Girard about the Tigers. “You’ve got to play a city game when you come into this gym.”
Wiggins set the pace for Tolman with a career-best 30 points and 10 rebounds. The big man’s ability to pound away at the smaller Chieftains allowed for several Tigers to enjoy productive outings. Jeremy Graca flirted with a triple-double (nine points, seven assists, nine rebounds) while Rodney Bustillo and Troy Sawyer each notched 10 points apiece. Bustillo also handed out eight assists.
“(Wiggins) makes everyone so much better when we run the offense through him,” notes Kayata. “All of the guys had good looks.”
Sophomore Scott Peterson led the Chieftains with 21 points, 19 of which materialized in the first half. Will Girard chipped in with 10.
Peterson and Wiggins traded baskets in the early going, Peterson scoring 13 of the Chieftains’ first 17 points while Wiggins recorded 10 of Tolman’s 12 points during one stretch. The Tigers’ biggest lead was 30-19 before the Chieftains ended the first half on a 7-2 surge to close to within 34-28 at halftime. Ponaganset’s run, which covered the final 2:19, coincided with Wiggins sitting on the bench with two fouls.
The Chieftians closed to within four on a couple of occasions early in the second half, but that’s when the Tigers seized control. Tolman took its first double digit lead after a Ponaganset turnover led to a hoop by sophomore Juan Velez, making it 46-36. Girard called a timeout in an attempt to stem the tide, but the Chieftains remained helpless as the lead continued to grow for the Tigers. A 3-pointer by Graca followed by six straight points by Wiggins gave the home team a 63-42 cushion to work with.
“In the second half they (Ponaganset) started settling for jumpers,” said Kayata. “We stayed disciplined and ran our offense through Wiggins and we scored.”
Kayata ended up pulling his starters with 3:32 remaining. In a surprising twist the Tigers featured a full-court press that at times pinned the Chieftains back on their heels while other instances yielded some easy opportunities for Ponaganset.
“Sometimes we’ve been a little bit selfish where guys want to shoot the ball,” said Kayata. “I think right now we’re firing and are playing our best basketball of the season from an offensive standpoint. This is the time you want to be playing your best basketball.”
PONAGANSET (44): Brendan Morgan 1 1-2 3, David Gelsomino 1 0-0 2, Will Girard 5 0-0 10, John Peterson 3 0-0 6, Bailey Braga 0 0-2 0, Ryan Danielson 0 0-0 0, Scott Peterson 9 3-4 21, Brandon Knox 0 0-0 0, Patrick Crino 0 0-0 0, Curtis Johnson 1 0-0 2, Sam Fasano 0 0-0 0. Totals: 20 4-8 44.
TOLMAN (71): Troy Sawyer 5 0-0 10, Rodney Bustillo 5 0-0 10, Rems Perry 0 0-1 0, Kevin Coughlin 0 0-1 0, Jeremy Graca 2 4-4 9, Justin Zetina 0 0-0 0, Elijah Wiggins 14 2-3 30, Juan Velez 2 2-2 6, Roberto Contreras 1 0-0 2, Mamour Samb 2 0-0 4, Ja-Quan Seldon 0 0-0 0. Totals: 31 8-11 71.
Halftime: T 34-28.
Three-point field goals: T 1 (Jeremy Graca).