PROVIDENCE — There were bodies scrambling around the hardwood and guttural signs of exhaust.
There was also a thrilling comeback bid by a St. Raphael outfit that trailed by a dozen points with just over five minutes remaining. Alas, the quest to overtake Moses Brown fell just short as the Saints’ season ended in a 44-40 loss to Moses Brown in Sunday’s R.I. Division II Tournament quarterfinal-round contest at Rhode Island College.
Having just lost to No. 4 seed Moses Brown 12 days ago in a game that went a long way in determining playoff position, fifth-seeded St. Raphael pieced together a 12-2 surge that carried the team to the brink of overtaking its division rival. The Quakers didn’t completely cave thanks to a one-handed bank shot by sophomore forward Ogechi Ezemma with 34 seconds remaining.
The particulars surrounding Ezemma’s clutch basket are worth denoting. She hoisted a shot toward the rim with one second remaining on the shot clock, yet it wasn’t the result of Moses Brown scrambling to find something in the heat of the moment. Point guard Abby Schreiber wisely called a timeout after running into a SRA double team. Schreiber probably couldn’t see the shot and game clocks located above the basket, but clearly she was determined not to have the possession end in a turnover.
Quakers head coach Dr. Laurie Center explained the catch-and-shoot heroics of Ezemma. “We drew a double screen. I told (Ezemma) that she could catch, step and release. You’ve got to get it up. You may get a foul call or you might get a crazy shot to go in.”
Down two possessions after calling timeout with 21.7 ticks flashing on the Murray Center scoreboard, St. Raphael went for the home run as key reserve Kaylee Oliver couldn’t knock down what was a good look from 3-point territory. Oliver had another crack at a three with 5.5 seconds still remaining, but it wound up being the final shot in SRA’s season.
Oliver was a steady force for the Saints in the first half, coming off the bench to swish three triples. The sophomore was responsible for 11 of the 18 points that St. Raphael had at halftime. The opportunities Oliver had during the opening 16 minutes were few and far between during the second stanza as foul trouble along with a constant Moses Brown double team limited her to a single field goal – a foul-line jumper that was part of SRA’s late-game surge.
“She’s a shooter and we know she likes NBA-range threes,” said Center about Oliver, who ended up leading all scorers with 13 points. “The big thing (Sunday) was no uncontested shots … get your hands in their face and make them shoot an ugly shot.”
For the most part, the two teams had similar stats after one half of intense playoff basketball was in the books. Moses Brown shot 7-of-21 and committed 11 turnovers while St. Raphael was 7-of-22 with 12 turnovers. The main reason why the Quakers were up 21-18 was due to foul shooting. Moses Brown made 15 trips to the charity stripe, making six, while SRA attempted just two free throws.
The Saints could only watch as the Quakers continued to parade to the line in the second half. All told, Moses Brown attempted 23 more free throws than its counterpart – 36 compared to 13 for SRA. The Quakers didn’t exactly take full advantage, sinking just 17 freebies for an unsightly 47.2 percent.
The amount of fouls called bogged down things down considerably. With five minutes remaining, the Saints had three players on the floor with four fouls – starters Kelsy Lynch and Rybecca Gonzalez along with Oliver. Another starter, Oluwaseun Shittu, was whistled for her fourth with 3:25 left.
Amazingly, not a single one of the aforementioned Saints picked up a fifth foul. Lynch kept grinding away down low for two hard-earned baskets in a three-possession span after being held off the scoreboard for nearly 28 minutes. She then watched as back-to-back turnovers by Moses Brown resulted in a jumper by Oliver and a layup by Christa Thomas. Just like that, the Quakers were only up 42-40.
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A traveling call gave the Saints possession with 1:34 remaining. Oliver missed a three coming out of a timeout, though Lynch came away with the offensive board. Swarmed by a gaggle of Quaker defenders, Lynch had trouble going back up before committing a traveling violation.
Seeking to get a stop, the Saints could only watch as Ezemma calmly swished a backbreaker of a shot. Playing in her final game for SRA, senior Lauren Gaj netted six of her eight points in the second half. Schreiber finished with 12 points to lead Moses Brown, who will face Prout in Wednesday’s semifinals. The eighth-seeded Crusaders shocked No. 1 seed Rogers, 49-43, on Sunday.