NORTH KINGSTOWN — Cranston East players knew they had to try something different in the second half of Thursday’s state boys basketball tournament game.
Westerly High’s Taber Gates was killing them.
Here’s what Gates did in a six-minute stretch in the second half. He hit a heavily contested, nasty 14-footer, nailed a pair of 3-pointers, one of them well beyond the arc, and he found David Tiedemann open inside for a score and Vinny Giorno for a pair of baskets.
Gates had his hand in 14 straight points, putting the ninth-seeded Bulldogs up by four with 4:45 left. It was vintage Gates and as fine a six-minute stretch as he has ever put together in his career. That’s saying a lot for someone who has more than 1,500 points to his credit.
But the Thunderbolts made a key defensive change during a timeout and held off the Bulldogs, 61-56. East put Aireus Raspberry on Gates for the final 4:13 of the game, and he held the Westerly guard without a basket or assist.
“To be honest with you, Nelvin [Blanco] and Aireus talked about it in that timeout. They decided to make the switch,” East coach Isaiah McDaniel said. “Aireus had fresher legs and is a little stronger. Our plan was to negate [Gates], but he’s a fantastic player and he played great.”
Still, the game was far from over. A deep baseline 3-pointer by Tiedemann (10 points) put the Bulldogs ahead 54-52 with 2:04 left. Tiedemann, who finished with 20 points, went to the floor with an injury with about 8 minutes left and was playing in obvious pain the rest of the way.
Raspberry tied it on a putback of his own miss and Blanco picked the pocket of a Westerly player for an easy basket to make it 56-54 with 1:31 left. Giorno (14 points) tied it at 56 with an inside basket off an assist from Chas Morgan with 1:06 left.
Noah Berg scored an easy inside basket for East with 46 seconds left to make it 58-56. Westerly missed on its next possession with 16 seconds left and the Bulldogs had to commit two fouls to get East to the free-throw line. Raspberry made one of two free throws with 4.9 seconds left to give East the lead, 59-56. Maclean Hanley rebounded Raspberry’s miss and was fouled with 3.0 seconds left. His two free throws sealed the win.
Westerly (17-8) was coming off a disappointing loss to Narragansett in the D-II semifinals when seniors Tiedemann, Gates and guard John Luzzi did not start due to illness.
“This is one of the best senior classes we’ve had at Westerly and one of the best in my time as coach,” Westerly coach Mike Gleason said. “Unlike last week, we have no regrets. I have nothing but respect for this group. Unfortunately, tonight is the end of the journey, but they have their heads up.”
Blanco finished with 25 for eighth-seeded Cranston East (17-7), and Raspberry had 19. Westerly had three players playing man-to-man and the other two in a zone on the defensive end.
“At times I thought it worked well, but at other times our bigs didn’t come up quick enough,” Gleason said. “Still, I thought it was one of our best performances of the season.”
East will play top-seeded Bishop Hendricken in the quarterfinals at CCRI-Warwick Sunday at 5 p.m.