NORTH SMITHFIELD — After a rather sloppy initial half, one in which it registered 15 turnovers and had serious issues netting a bucket, North Smithfield High head coach Alisha Brannon took her troops aside and told them simply to calm down and think.
“Basically, we have a tendency to rush on offense, and the first half was a classic example,” she said. “They try to pass too quickly or dribble past (defenders). At halftime, I told them to quit rushing and spread the floor.
“I also said, ‘You’ve got 30 seconds to shoot, (and) that’s plenty of time to do what you’re capable of doing,’” she added. “I asked them not to get so frazzled.”
The Northmen got the hint, played more deliberately, rebounded with aplomb and later left the Lovett Memorial Gymnasium with a come-from-behind 38-26 triumph over Davies Tech in a R.I. Division III Tournament quarterfinal-round tilt on Wednesday night.
With the decision, No. 4-seeded North Smithfield (13-8 overall) now will face top-ranked Juanita Sanchez in a D-III semifinal at Rhode Island College at 8 p.m., Monday. The fifth-seeded Patriots closed the winter at 10-10.
“I know how well they can play when they’re thinking,” Brannon stated. “Now they just have to put two good halves together. They can’t continue to come out so slowly.”
Junior guard Keila Strick, who only scored a point in the first session, finished with a game-high 13 points, and classmate and forward Pam Denomme mustered 11 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks in the win.
Fellow junior Jamie LaFazia notched eight points, while senior co-captain and forward Sidra Ethier managed just two points but 11 boards and four blocks.
No Patriot recorded a double-digit outing, though sophomore Waleska Kelly closed with eight points and junior Kaitlin Flynn seven.
“Absolutely, their height played a big role in the loss,” offered Joe Handy, Davies’ first-year mentor after a lengthy career coaching Central Falls. “We just got out-rebounded in the second half. Our girls gave everything they had, so I can’t be upset about a lack of desire.”
Trailing 14-10 at the break, Strick landed a running one-hander and – after forcing Davies into a clock violation – LaFazia drained a 15-foot jumper to tie the score at 14-14 for the first time in the contest. Those two buckets seemed to mellow the Northmen, who over the first 6:36 of the stanza assembled a 12-3 flurry to gain a 22-17 advantage.
Actually, North Smithfield took its first lead at 18-17 after Strick netted a one-hand jumper in the lane with 11:17 left in the game.
With 8:43 remaining, Flynn’s baseline jumper sliced the deficit to 22-19, but Denomme ripped a three-pointer 40 seconds later to generate an 11-3 surge over the next 3:17. Highlights of the run included a Denomme trey, a LaFazia lay-in and another Strick trifecta; that basket gave the Northmen a 33-22 lead with five minutes left.
Kelly’s layup off a steal cut the North Smithfield lead to 33-26 at the 3:22 mark, though Strick’s final “three” with 2:10 remaining iced the game at 38-26.
It should be noted that with 62 ticks left, Flynn fell to the floor with an apparent injury to her left ankle or knee, and Handy and junior guard Rosaliz Torres carried her to the bench. Handy later stated Flynn had suffered a bruised calf.
“You had No. 32 (Denomme) hit some shots in the final half; you expected Strick to land them, but (Denomme) hit three three-pointers, which kind of affected our game plan,” Handy noted. “We wanted to keep the pressure on them in the backcourt to continue to force turnovers, but they started breaking the press by passing to the outside.
“I hate to say it, but I also think fatigue started to set in because of all the pressure we gave them in the first half,” he continued. “We also got pretty cold in the second half, couldn’t hit anything. You look at the first half, most of our baskets came off of turnovers. In actuality, we didn’t shoot the ball that well, and it showed in the second half.
“They just got red-hot in the second half. Their field-goal percentage had to be 30 to 40 percent higher than it was in the first half.”
Brannon indicated she had to “sit” Strick for over six minutes in the initial session after she picked up her third foul. She started her 5-4 guard after intermission, and she responded with 12 points.
Stated Handy: “I thought it was going to be one of those games where, once a team heated up, it would go on to win it. Unfortunately, it wasn’t us.”