COVENTRY — It was with 10:27 to go in the game when Coventry head boys basketball coach Tom Campbell called a timeout with his Oakers in serious trouble against St. Raphael Academy that it was more than just them losing the game and having no momentum for the upcoming RIIL Open Boys Basketball Tournament.
The Oakers’ pride was in severe jeopardy since the Saints made C. Arthur Flori Gymnasium all their own for two-thirds of the Division I Quarterfinal game on Monday night.
After that timeout, Coventry gained back more than its pride and momentum.
It gained back its swagger and a trip to the CCRI Knight Campus in Warwick for the semifinals against Cranston West on Wednesday night.
The Oakers, in their first playoff game at the Division I level in more than 15 years, pulled off one of the more dramatic comebacks in the program’s history by erasing an 18-point deficit with just over 10 minutes to go in the game and earn a 77-75 win over St. Raphael, taking one step closer to a division championship.
“We didn’t have any hustle up until that point (with 10:27 to go),” Campbell said. “We called a timeout and I told them, ‘hey, it’s now or never. We got to start getting on the floor, rebounding, getting after it or we’re going to get blown out of our own building. It was a matter of pride and I thought they responded. It was ugly.”
Garrett Douglass, who scored 15 points in the Oakers’ thrilling victory and was a thorn in the Saints’ side back on Jan. 31, capped the 32-12 run by Coventry to end the game by burying his fourth 3-pointer with 11 seconds to go.
In the two meetings with St. Raphael, including the 92-72 blowout at home, Douglass has hit a total of 10 baskets from downtown against the Saints, but none bigger than the final one to give Coventry only its second lead of the game in the final seconds.
“We had a kid right in (Douglass’) face,” St. Raphael coach Thomas Sorrentine said. “He shot it and the kid made it. He’s unbelievable. He’s killed us all year. We did a good job on him in the first half. In the second half, he got loose.”
On that shooting play with the Oakers down 75-74, St. Raphael was trying to double up on Aaron Greenwood (team-high 19 points) so that Coventry couldn’t get an inside look. On Coventry’s side, the team was supposed to set up a screen in the middle for Douglass to get an open lane after he set up a pair of screens on the baseline while Nate Stitchell (17 points) brought the ball into play.
When there was no screen, Douglass stayed on the left wing where Stitchell found him and, despite being guarded, the junior Oaker and leading scorer for the season stepped into the shot and drained the 3-pointer with relative ease.
“When I came out, they (St. Raphael) was running a zone, so I just stayed put,” Douglass said. “Nate started attacking and he just kicked it to me. I didn’t think of anything except shooting it. It was automatic.”
Defensively, Coventry didn’t alter much in terms of the zone that it was running throughout the game. However, the Oakers needed to stretch it out in order to put the proverbial wrench into the rhythm that the Saints clearly had in the first half.
Cesar Mejia, Charles Correa and Trevor Vasey all scored in double figures for St. Raphael in the first 16 minutes of play and combined for 43 of the team’s 47 points in the opening half to build up a 12-point lead at recess.
Once Coventry stretched out the zone and with increased intensity, the team forced St. Raphael to move the ball up the floor and into the shot much quicker than it wanted to, causing the Saints to rush many of the inside shots they took for the rest of the game.
Even though Mejia finished the game with 25 points – with his last four to give the Saints a 75-73 late – and Correa added in an impressive 24, they, along with Vasey (18 points) were held very quiet in the second half which helped the Oakers slowly but surely claw back.
“They kind of picked us apart with the zone,” said Campbell of St. Raphael’s play in the first half. “We came out in the second half and extended the zone and it took them out of their rhythm a little bit. We kept the ball away from certain guys and it made a big difference for us.”
“It was basically the defense,” Douglass added. “We started to play defense and we got stops and we started to get going from there. We didn’t change anything. We just came with more intensity in the second half.”
The other major difference for Coventry on Monday came at the foul line.
In the second half, along with St. Raphael committing bad fouls off of the ball, the Oakers attacked the zone and put the Saints into severe foul trouble and went to the charity stripe early and often. Coventry had a 22-8 shot advantage from the free-throw line and the Oakers made 12 of those shots.
“Coventry was shooting a lot from the foul line,” Sorrentine said. “They had two fouls and we had close to 15. We didn’t get to the line much at all. We didn’t do anything different on defense. We made some bad fouls, pushing a kid aside and we had two block-outs and the officials called fouls on us. We just didn’t finish the deal.”
Now, the Oakers have just one more step to take in advancing to Sunday’s Division I finals in trying to upset the top-seeded Falcons, who routed Smithfield on Monday night and Coventry knows that it can only go to the well so often before it runs dry.
“We have to learn that we have to play with intensity for 32 minutes,” Campbell said. “Not just the last 12 minutes. We have to constantly fight. Cranston West is a very good team, so we have to do that for the whole game.”
St. Raphael, on the other hand, has to now wait two weeks before seeing competitive basketball again when the Open Tournament begins.
Sorrentine said that he is hoping to get a scrimmage together within that time so that he can keep his Saints fresh and not be rusty for the 16-team tournament.
ST. RAPHAEL (75)
Cesar Mejia 8 7-8 25, Charles Correa 9 3-6 24, Trevor Vasey 8 0-0 18, Jordan Peguero 0 2-3 2, Ben Pillsbury 1 0-0 2, Davon Robertson 1 0-0 2, Jazz Robinson 1 0-0 2, Zach Mays 0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 28 12-17 75.
Aaron Greenwood 6 6-10 19, Nate Stitchell 6 2-3 17, Garrett Douglas 5 1-2 15, Dylan Lincoln 4 3-6 12, Ryan Finnegan 3 0-0 8, Brandon Sullivan 0 4-6 4, Sean Roles 1 0-0 2, Brendan Haynes 0 0-0 0, Doug Auger 0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 25 16-27 77.
Halftime: 47-35 St. Raphael. 3-pointers: SRA 7 (Correa 3, Mejia 2, Vasey 2); Coventry 11 (Douglass 4, Stitchell 3, Finnegan 2, Greenwood 1, Linc