WESTERLY — For the Chariho High boys basketball team, this was not a perfect performance.
But the measure of a quality team can often best be determined when it is not thriving in every facet of the game.
By that standard, the Chargers definitely excelled Friday night, turning back South Kingstown, 53-45, to win the WCCU Holiday Basketball Tournament in Federico Gym.
"It came down to us turning them over and getting out in transition," Chariho coach Corey Downey said. "We turned them over in the fourth quarter and I thought that was big. This team has been able to make a play when they need to."
The Chargers trailed 36-35 at the end of the third quarter, having squandered a 12-point lead — they scored just six points in span of more than 13 minutes across the second and third periods.
"We just went into a huge lull in the third quarter," Downey said.
Chariho broke out early in the fourth quarter by scoring the first nine points to take a 44-36 lead. Kyle McGovern had six of his eight points in the spurt as the Chargers were able to get out and run.
"Coach told me I needed to step up and I finally did," McGovern said. "Transition is our best way to score. I was struggling in the first, second and third quarters. I just tried to keep going."
Chariho (6-2) pushed the lead to five points, 48-43, on a putback by Jeremiah Graham with 2:03 left.
Griffin Sward answered on the other end for South (3-5) to make it 48-45 with 1:52 remaining.
Graham then scored on an Euro-step layup in transition. Chariho freshman Dylan Dugas followed with a huge block on the other end, and Graham once again got loose in transition to score on a layup to put the Chargers up 52-45 with 1:18 left.
"When Jeremiah gets downhill in transition he is so difficult to stop," Downey said.
The teams traded turnovers after Graham's basket and Riley Reed's free throw with 35 seconds left put it out of reach at 53-45.
Graham finished with 18 points, nine in the fourth quarter, and eight rebounds to earn the tournament's Mark Mitchell MVP award. Mitchell played in the tournament's early years and was a player and coach at Stonington. He was the first firefighter in the history of the Pawcatuck Fire Department to die in the line of duty, in 1994.
"I think defensively we focused on what we needed to focus on," Graham said. "For the most part, we played good help defense."
Chariho plays man-to-man defense, but defenders are continually switching on screens on or off the ball and even on cuts through the defense.
"It's just second nature to us," Graham said. "We go over that all the time in practice to make sure we are all on the same page. It comes with repetition."
Downey is confident any of his players can defend any other player on an opposing team regardless of position.
"It prevents them from turning the corner," Downey said. "For the most part, we do a good job of communicating. It makes my job easier because they can guard anybody.
"We pride ourselves on defense. We are giving up 41 a game and they were scoring 58. If we held them below 50, I thought we had a good shot to win the game and we were able to do that."
Chariho got a big lift from Chris Kozlosky off the bench in the first half when Reed, a starter, picked up two fouls in the first two minutes of the contest. Kozlosky made three 3-pointers in the first half to finish with nine points.
Dugas added nine points, five rebounds, four assists and four steals.
"For a freshman to not just make great offensive plays, but on defense too is big," Downey said. "He had two really important blocks."
Chariho, which has won five straight, will carry momentum into January and the heart of its Division II schedule.
"Winning the tournament is big. It's gives us a lot of confidence. It gets out team going," Graham said.
Liam Considine led South Kingstown in scoring with nine points. Griffin Sward had eight.
Reed received the Joseph N. Cugini Service Award. The award is present to a player on the winning team who demonstrates the spirit and importance of community service and leadership within the team and community.
McGovern earned the Bob Bewlay sportsmanship award. Bewlay worked at the credit union for 34 years and was the vice president and chief operating officer.
South's Sward and Dae-Sean Kirby were named to the all-tournament team. Chris Niziolek made it for Chariho. Stonington's Luke Lowry and Westerly's Jesse Samo rounded out the squad.