PAWTUCKET – Sure, tournament bragging rights were on the line when Tolman and Shea met Saturday night in the finals of the James W. Donaldson Memorial Tip-Off Tournament, which is designed to pay homage to the memory of the longtime Tolman High teacher and coach. It’s just that there’s a whole other realm to take into account.
Preseason tourneys like this one serve a purpose of developing each squad in a competitive setting, which in turn provides coaches with a foundation to work off of after only a handful of practices. At the end of the day, teams are judged based on how they fare during the league portion of the slate, which is what events such as the Donaldson and the Lynch Tournaments serve as a precursor to.
When the Raiders and the Tigers meet again a week from Tuesday, no one will remember that Tolman successfully defended its Donaldson title with a 58-53 victory, winning the event for the ninth time in the 16 years this local staple has taken place. It’s all about the direction in which these two crosstown rivals head off in before reconvening at Donaldson Gymnasium eight days from now. When taking a big-picture view, that’s the game which truly matters.
“Just learning the plays and executing,” summed up Shea head coach Matt Pita, whose squad concluded a stretch of playing three games in three nights. “Every day, we learn something more. It’s a process.”
Added Tolman head coach Mike Kayata, “We have a lot of fine tuning to do,” expressing a sentiment that no doubt many coaches are echoing with league play set to commence later this week.
The conclusion to Saturday’s clash was fast and frantic as the crowd of roughly 600 could walk out and say they received their money’s worth.
The Raiders (2-1) fell behind by as many as 14 points (39-25) in the second half before slowly chipping away. A 19-6 surge, capped off by a 3-pointer off the fingertips of junior Eli Itkin, brought the Raiders to within one, 45-44, with 3:56 left.
Shea continued to stay close despite an off-night scoring-wise from Jordy Brito, who didn’t register a field goal in the game’s first 30 minutes. The final two minutes were a different story as Brito nailed two clutch triples, the first one to tie the game at 48-all with 1:24 remaining.
The final 84 seconds were downright maddening. The lead changed hands three times in a 20-second span with Tolman going up 50-48 on a hoop by Mamour Samb, whose triple-double performance consisted of 14 points, 10 rebounds and 11 steals. Shea answered right away with Brito connecting from deep to put his team up 51-50.
Just as everyone’s heads were set to pop, Juan Velez streaked into the frontcourt and unleashed a three at the top of the key, the shot nothing but net to reclaim the lead for the Tigers, 53-51, with now 50 ticks left. A Shea lane violation gave the ball right back to Tolman, which iced the game behind four free throws from Samb.
Velez’s clutch hoop clinched his selection for tournament MVP, capping off a two-game stretch that included a 35-point explosion in the semis against East Greenwich.
“He makes us go and plays with a lot of confidence,” Kayata said. “Velez is our best player, but Mamour Samb is a close second. He had a great night.”
Then there’s the intimidating force that is Tolman junior Jonathan Percy, a 6-foot-6 shot-blocking force who possesses the ability to single-handedly change the game’s complexion. Kayata had Percy for seven rejections, yet it was clear the Raiders wanted no part of driving toward the basket after Percy emphatically swatted away several offerings in the opening minutes, some of which ended up in the bleachers.
“He’s the protector of the basket for us,” noted Kayata about Percy, whose stat line also consisted of eight points and nine rebounds.
For the Raiders, who hit just four of 13 free throws, Tito DoCouto scored 14 points with Itkin and Malcolm Rosa each registering 11 points. Brito wound up with nine points, but Pita was more interested in taking a team-oriented view on what went down rather than focusing on the off-night endured by his top ballhawk – an appropriate stance to take given it’s the coach’s job to preach success as a unit with the season just getting underway.
“We stress about playing as one,” Pita said. “We win when we spread the ball around.”
The dry run is now in the books. Where Tolman (2-0) and Shea go from here will largely hinge on whether the players understand the message delivered by the coaches. In any event, the true litmus test comes next Tuesday in the form of a league game, the one that truly matters.
SHEA (53): Jordy Brito 2 3-6 9, Kenric Carter 2 0-2 4, Christian Malave 2 0-2 4, Tito DoCouto 7 0-1 14, Eli Itkin 5 0-0 11, Nathan Lopes 0 0-0 0, Jamal Tucker 0 0-0 0, Malcolm Rosa 5 1-2 11. Totals: 23 4-13 53.
TOLMAN (58): Juan Velez 8 4-4 22, Seny Samb 1 0-0 2, Justin Zetina 1 0-0 2, Mamour Samb 5 4-7 14, Rodney Jean-Pierre 3 0-1 6, Jalen Dupre 0 0-2 0, Brandon Gagne 2 0-0 4, Jonathan Percy 3 2-4 8. Totals: 22 10-18 58.
Halftime: T 24-19.
Three-point field goals: S 3 (Jordy Brito 2, Eli Itkin); T 2 (Juan Velez 2).
Jonathan Percy (Tolman), Jordy Brito (Shea), Eli Itkin (Shea), Jevonta Gonsalves (Toll Gate), Brandon Eckles (East Greenwich).
Juan Velez (Tolman).