NORTH PROVIDENCE --- In a contest full of high energy and emotion, not to mention a chance to earn sole possession of the Division II-North regular-season championship, Cumberland did the unthinkable on Wednesday night and went a full six minutes without producing a point early in the second half of its showdown against North Providence.
The Clippers’ cold spell enabled the host Cougars to erase a two-point deficit and rattle off 14 straight points, and that enabled them to keep Cumberland within an arm’s length of them the rest of the way and come away with a hard-fought 66-58 victory.
Instead of being two games out of first place, the win now raises the Cougars’ record to 13-3 and puts them in a tie for the top spot with the Clippers (13-3) with two games left for both teams.
If both teams capture their final two games – they each play six-win Lincoln and winless Central Falls – they will share the division crown, but the Clippers will get a higher seed than the Cougars in the upcoming Division II playoffs because they beat the next highest seeded team (Westerly) and the Cougars didn’t.
“I knew it would be a rock fight tonight,” admitted Cumberland coach Gary Reedy. “We just have to go back and win our next two games, but we have to play better than we did tonight. We were sloppy at times, but I give (N.P.) credit. They played a good game.”
No one Cougar played as good a game as speedy senior guard Samuel Odukoya, who had just 13 points in the two teams’ last affair, a 64-55 win by the Clippers back on Dec. 18 on their home floor, but responded in a big way with a game-high 26 last night. Jake DiDomenico also had a strong game with 17 points and a dozen rebounds.
The Clippers were led by Tom Lazaras’ 20 points (12 coming via three-pointers) and five assists. Gregg Joubert was also tough on the glass with 13 points and 11 rebounds, and Dylan Boisclair added 12 points, and along with Trent Vasey, ripped down nine boards.
For most of the night, this was a seesaw battle, with both teams trading the lead early and often and the Cougars, thanks to a late nine-point run, holding a 26-22 lead at the break.
The Clippers eventually took back the lead (31-29) with 14:01 to play in the first half on a layup by Boisclair, but it turned out to be their last one of the night.
Back-to-back layups by DiDomenico gave the Cougars the lead, and that kicked off their 14-point run that included the visitors going 0-for-4 from the free-throw line and missing their fair share of shots.
By the time the Clippers got back on the board, on a layup by Vasey with 8:01 to go, they found themselves staring at a 10-point deficit and an uphill climb the rest of the way.
Nevertheless, they did their best to get back in the game, and with 3:30 to play, they were down by five (53-48) after Lazaras hit a pair of free throws.
But Ken Ortiz, a bench player for the Cougars who was a non-factor in the first meeting between the two teams, came through with a pair of three-pointers, and it was his second one with 2:07 to play that helped N.P. assume a 64-52 lead with 1:40 to play and control of the game.
Another factor in the outcome was the Clippers’ 29 percent shooting from the floor (22-for-75) and 35 percent from the stripe (6-for-17). The Cougars weren’t much better in the shooting department, but they were 71 percent from the line (17-for-24).