WESTERLY — In a frenetic, up-and-down game that featured plenty of offense, it was Westerly High’s defense that was the difference.
Taber Gates finished with a game-high 24 points and set the Bulldogs program record for career 3-pointers, Chas Morgan added 23 points and Westerly shut down rival Stonington High in the second half to produce an 80-57 victory in a first-round boys game of the WCCU Holiday Basketball Tournament on Wednesday night at Westerly’s Federico Gym.
The Bulldogs (2-2) moved on to play South Kingstown (5-2) in Friday’s tournament title game at 8 p.m. The Rebels defeated Chariho, 68-41, in Wednesday’s other first-round contest.
“That was a crazy game, back and forth, both ways,” said Gates, who hit four 3-pointers and has 237 for his career. “Stonington was playing really well against us. They were holding their own, and they had the lead at halftime. I just think our defense was better, and our rebounding, and we just found ways to score.”
Midway through the second half, the Bulldogs and Bears traded baskets on three consecutive possessions each, with Stonington’s Zach Scott capping the scoring frenzy with a scoop shot that made it 47-all with 10:30 left. That’s when Westerly went on a 10-0 run to make it 57-47. Stonington would go on to score just 10 more points.
Bulldogs coach Mike Gleason said in the first half Westerly was “stagnant” once Stonington moved out of a triangle-and-two defense to man-to-man. The Bears led 30-26 at the break. But in the second half the Bulldogs got comfortable.
After the scoop shot by Scott, who led the Bears with 17 points, including three 3s, the teams traded misses. Morgan scored on a fast-break layup to put Westerly up, 49-47, and Gleason called a timeout.
“We had the lead, but then they kept tying it up,” Gleason said. “We tried to refocus. We talked about the defensive end, then we got four stops in a row and ended up going on the 10-0 run. … Now our offense is flowing if we can [continue to] get stops on the defensive end and get defensive rebounds.”
Bears coach John Luzzi, meanwhile, wasn’t happy with the number of whistles going Stonington’s way.
“With both teams attacking the rim with the level of intensity that they were, it was just mind-blowing to me how in the second half we were not getting the benefit of the calls as we were really hitting the rim hard,” Luzzi said. “There was a bunch of contact down there. I want to see it [called] both ways. I understand that we were fouling, and that’s fine. But it’s kind of frustrating when it’s not called at both ends of the court.”
Westerly finished 18 of 23 from the line; Stoningon, 8 of 8.
“I’m not taking anything from Westerly,” Luzzi added. “They did a great job and they deserve to win. I congratulate them on their win. They fought hard. It’s not all officiating. My team forgot how to play defense in the second half. Our help defense was terrible and we were just letting them get to the rim at will. … Defensively, we broke down big time.”
The Bears’ Marquis Jackson (11 points, 8 rebounds) hit a 3 to end the Bulldogs’ run and make it 57-50 with seven minutes left. But Stonington could never get back in the game.
Westerly scored 54 points in the second half.
Cole Riley added 10 points for the Bulldogs. John Luzzi had 10 points, nine rebounds and five assists, Bereket Janat had eight points and nine rebounds, and Vinny Giorno grabbed eight rebounds all in the second half.
Gates had eight assists and five steals to go with his 24 points. His first 3, from the right wing about three minutes into the game, broke his friend Austin Cilley’s mark of 233 from beyond the arc.
“It’s a great accomplishment,” Gates said. “We’ve been shooting around. [Austin’s] my good buddy.”