EAST GREENWICH — For the first time all season, Westerly High’s coaching staff had one of those talks with the team at halftime.
The topic? A lack of effort on Westerly’s part.
The message, delivered in emphatic fashion by assistant coach Austin Cilley, was received by the seventh-seeded Bulldogs, who roared past No. 10 Mt. Hope, 66-51, in a first-round state boys basketball tournament game at East Greenwich.
Westerly next plays No. 2 North Kingstown, the Division I champion, on Sunday in the quarterfinals at CCRI-Warwick at 6 p.m. NK beat Ponaganset, 96-52, in the opener at EG.
Westerly (19-5) shot just 27 percent in the first half, missing a number of makeable shots, and turned it over six times. Mt. Hope (21-5), the D-III champion, led 30-23 at the half.
It could have been worse.
Westerly trailed 30-18 with 1:34 left before halftime. But the Huskies fouled Chas Morgan on back-to-back 3-point attempts and he made five of the six ensuing free throws in the final 30 seconds to leave the Bulldogs only down seven.
Then it was time for a chat.
“Austin Cilley got after it a little bit at halftime, and we haven’t had to do that this year with these guys,” Westerly head coach Mike Gleason said. “This is the first time we really had to get on them for effort. And Mt. Hope played a helluva half. They came to play.”
Westerly outscored Mt. Hope, 9-2, in the first two-plus minutes of the second half to tie the score at 32. Westerly’s 1-2-2 trapping, full-court defense gave the Huskies fits and resulted in numerous turnovers and easy Bulldog baskets.
The easy baskets allowed Westerly more opportunities to press, and that forced the game to be played at a quicker pace — which was what the Bulldogs wanted. It also woke the team up.
Westerly’s Jawarie Hamelin had a 3-pointer and a pair of layups in the run. He finished with 13 points.
“I think we played with more intensity and that helped us a lot,” said Hamelin, who also had five steals. “It gave us more momentum and energy.”
Westerly pushed the lead to four points, 41-37, on a Morgan’s free throw with 11:11 left.
But the Huskies responded by outscoring the Bulldogs 12-4 to take a 49-45 lead with 6:59 left. It appeared the game was going to the wire, and Westerly, which closed the regular season with 12 straight wins, was looking at going 0-2 in the postseason.
But Westerly’s press became even more effective— the Bulldogs ended the game with a 21-2 run. Mt. Hope did not make a field goal in the final 6:58.
Connor Warner (11 points) hit a huge 3-pointer with 3:12 left to give the Bulldogs a 53-49 lead.
A putback by Hamelin, an 8-footer by Warner off a fine feed from Morgan, and a pair of driving baskets by Patrick Murphy made it 62-51 with 1:14 left and sealed the win.
“We hadn’t played in 10 days and I was concerned about that. We were sluggish,” Gleason said. “I thought we played tentative in the press. We were tentative on offense. In the second half, we played better and got a big win for us.”
Morgan led the Bulldogs in scoring with 19 points, including an 8 of 10 showing at the free-throw line. Murphy had seven rebounds, and Bereket Janat contributed 11.
Mt. Hope’s Jalen Kopecky-Morton scored 16 points, including the 1,000th of his career. Only three of those points came in the second half.
The Bulldogs now face a formidable foe in NK. The Skippers are the favorites to win the event after three-time state champion and No. 1 seed Bishop Hendricken lost to No. 16 Cumberland, 62-55.