PAWTUCKET – Short jumpers, three-pointers, lay-ups. It didn’t matter. No matter what North Smithfield tossed up in its Division III matchup with host Shea on Tuesday night, nothing seemed to fall.
When you are inside the small and always-boisterous confines of “The Cage” against a Raider defense that always seems to play their opponents tough, victories are hard to come by when you’re having an off-night from the field.
Shea didn’t exactly shoot the lights out either, but it took care of business early and held off the Northmen the rest of the way to earn a 36-30 decision in its own league opener.
Senior Kassiana Grant led all scorers with 16 points for the Raiders.
The win is the first time in at least three years that Shea has defeated North Smithfield.
“It’s usually not a good matchup for us for some reason,” Shea coach John Lickert said. “They are well-coached and they play great defense. Tonight, they didn’t shoot the ball that well, but we had something to do with it. We came out with a chopping defense and we were all over them. Then we got a little relaxed and a good team like that is going to come back.”
Shea held a 15-12 advantage over the Northmen at the break. But for the first eight-plus minutes, it wasn’t even close. With their in-your-face defense combined with the cold shooting of the Northmen, the Raiders took an early 11-1 lead.
“I think a lot of our shots just didn’t fall,” said N.S. coach Alisha Brannon, whose squad fell to 0-2 to begin the league season. “We had shots literally going in the net and then out. I thought the girls played amazing defense the entire game. We held them to just 35 points…In the first half we didn’t move the ball around to the post. We were just swinging it around to the three-point line.”
The Northmen were able to re-group in the latter part of the opening half and limited Shea to just two buckets. The Raiders could have had a bigger advantage by halftime if they were more accurate at the free throw line.
Shea was 0-for-6 from the charity stripe the final 7:32 of the half, and was only 14 of 31 for the game. In a non-league Injury Fund contest against Mount Pleasant last week, the Raiders were 31 percent (13-for-42) from the free throw line.
“It’s early in the season,” said Lickert, who returns two starters from last year’s team that went 12-6 in the league. “The girls are not shooting. They are not ready yet. It takes a couple of games.”
Trailing by a score of 13-3 after a lay-up from Shea senior Kayla Davis (10 points), North Smithfield started whittling away at their deficit in the opening half. Junior Keila Strick, who led the Northmen with a team-best 13 points, nailed a 3-pointer and then junior teammate Jamie LaFazia (five points) stole a Shea ball and went coast-to-coast for the layup.
Grant responded with her own coast-to-coast layup, but North Smithfield was able to cut the lead down to three before retreating to the locker room on a pair of baskets from junior Tara Larson (nine points).
“They just stepped it up on defense and they picked it up on the offense, hitting the post players,” Brannon said. “After that, it was tight until the end.”
The Raiders didn’t give themselves some breathing room at the start of the second half by out-scoring the Northmen, 8-1, in the first 4:30 to take a 10-point cushion (23-13). North Smithfield cut the lead down as little as three points with less than a minute left when Strick hit 3-pointer and junior Meredith O’Donnell scored on a short jumper.
Lickert felt his team’s earlier work may have been the difference.
“They play great defense,” he said. “Fortunately, we made some shots early and jumped on them. They couldn’t over take us. I don’t think we have ever had the lead on them in at least six or seven (straight) games against them. It was a good win. They are one of the better teams, one of the top three in Division III. That’s a good win, especially on our court because it’s going to be tough to beat them on theirs.”
NORTH SMITHFIELD (30) – Sidra Ethier 0 0-1 0, Emily Dodd 1 0-0 3, Tara Larson 3 3-4 9, Keila Strick 4 3-5 13, Jamie LaFazia 2 1-3 5, Meredith O’Donnell 1 0-0 2. Totals – 11 7-12 30
SHEA (36) – Kyara McGahee 1 0-0 2, Cindy Martins 0 1-2 1, Antoinette Kou 3 1-5 7, Kassiana Grant 4 8-16 16, Kayla Davis 3 4-8 10. Totals – 11 14-31 36
Halftime – S, 15-12. 3-point goals – NS (3): Dodd, Strick 2.