WESTERLY — While it may not have had quite the level of drama of the 2012 WCCU Holiday Basketball Tournament finals (which featured the same two teams), Friday’s first-round game between the Westerly High and Exeter-West Greenwich boys’ basketball teams did not disappoint.
Neither team led by more than nine points and Westerly ultimately came out on top in the back-and-forth affair 62-59.
Westerly led 62-59, but the Bulldogs missed the second of two free throws and the Scarlet Knights were able to grab the rebound, move the ball up court and call timeout with 9.5 seconds left.
Exeter-West Greenwich got the ball into the hands of its top scorer, Jack Livsey, who was looking for Justin Kennedy for a right corner 3-pointer.
Kennedy stopped his sprint toward the corner, but Livsey launched the pass anyway and the Knights (0-4) final threat ended without a shot.
“We were giving him a double screen on the baseline,” Exeter-West Greenwich coach Craig Main said. “I think he saw his guy (defender) was cheating.
“He did the right thing when he sees a guy cheating, he stopped, the only problem is we needed a 3-pointer there so stopping on the block didn’t help us out.”
The Knights had their chances late and trailed 53-51 with just under 3 minutes left.
Kyle Allen hit one of his two 3-pointers to stretch the lead to five, but Exeter West Greenwich continued to fight.
The Knights went to the free-throw line 13 times in the final 2½ minute,s but were only able to make six of them. By contrast, EWG made 10 of its first 13 free throws.
“We’re a little inexperienced in spots,” Main said. “Tonight was about getting these guys a little confidence.
“Any time you play a game that close you want to win. A few free throws and some better execution down the stretch and we’re right there.”
Exeter-West Greenwich, which led for a good portion of the second half, might not have even needed to make a comeback if it weren’t for the play of sophomore Jacee Hamelin.
Hamelin led all scorers with 28 points and grabbed 10 rebounds and provided Westerly offense when it needed it most.
The Bulldogs (1-3) trailed 43-39 with 8 minutes left in the game when they went on a Hamelin-fueled run.
Hamelin scored eight of Westerly’s next 11 points and put the Bulldogs up 50-47 with 5 minutes, 20 seconds left in the game.
Exeter-West Greenwich battled back and tied the game 58-58, but Hamelin put Westerly back on top after connecting on one of two free throws then extended the lead to three after a steal and a layup.
Hamelin said his points are a reflection of his teammates trust in him.
“When these captains look to you to score you have to step up and hit these buckets,” Hamelin said. “Just like last year Austin (Cilley) kind of counted on me when he got pressured so it was kind of easier to do it this year.”
Westerly coach Mike Gleason credited Hamelin for the second half surge, but also pointed out the return of senior captain Scott Liguori helped as well.
“Hamelin really took us on his back in the second half,” Gleason said. “That’s what having Scott Liguori back does.
“I can play him (Hamelin) at the point, I can play him on the wing or I can put him at the four (position). It gives us a lot more versatility having Scott at the point and I think his dribble penetration gave Exeter some problems tonight”
Liguori scored 14 points.
The game started off slowly. Both teams had more turnovers than points through the first 4 minutes.
Westerly held a 6-2 lead with 9½ minutes left in the first half when the Knights went on a 22-9 run over the next 7 minutes.
Exeter-West Greenwich hit all three of its 3-pointers and was 7-8 from the charity stripe in that time.
“I thought we got off to a great start defensively,” Gleason said. “I think Jack Livsey just took over with his hustle. At halftime it wasn’t Xs and Os it was more about intensity and effort on home court.”
Livsey led Exeter with 22 points.
Westerly trailed 27-23 but responded with a 10-0 run in the first 2 minutes of the second half before the Knights took the lead again 3 minutes later.
The Bulldogs will face Stonington in the championship game Monday at 8 p.m.