By Ken Sorensen
Sun staff writer
WESTERLY — In a game that featured two pressing teams and a frenetic pace throughout, Westerly High went cold at the wrong time.
And unfortunately for the Bulldogs, it came in the quarterfinals of the District II boys basketball tournament.
Second-seeded Westerly held a seven-point lead with three minutes and five seconds left in regulation but didn’t score again, and No. 10 East Greenwich upset the Bulldogs, 67-62, on Monday night at Federico Gym.
“They just hit shots,” Westerly coach Mike Gleason said. “And at the end they hit their last [six] foul shots. There’s nothing we can really look back on and say that was THE play. They just hit shots, and we had some rim out.”
The Bulldogs (18-5) appeared to have the game in hand when Patrick Murphy took an excellent pass from near half-court from Jawarie Hamelin and scored underneath. The play capped an 11-3 run and gave Westerly a 62-55 lead, its biggest of the game outside an early 8-0 advantage.
The Avengers (13-11) called timeout with 3:05 remaining, and proceeded to end the contest on a 12-0 run.
Sophomore guard John McMullen scored the first eight of the spurt, including two free throws on a one-and-one with 26.7 seconds left that gave EG a 63-62 lead. It was the seventh and final lead change of the game.
“We’ve struggled finishing out games,” said McMullen, who finished with four 3-pointers and 20 points, including one off-the-glass 3 in the second half that was from nearly 30 feet. “Being down seven and coming back to win is huge.”
Following McMullen’s two free throws, Westerly missed a 3-pointer and fouled Pat Shea (20 points), who made his two free throws to make it 65-62 with 15.9 remaining.
After an EG timeout, Westerly missed another 3-point attempt to all but seal the victory for the Avengers.
East Greenwich didn’t do anything special down the stretch, coach Don Bowen said. “We stayed in our core defense, and we matched up on Chas Morgan and Murphy. Their shots just didn’t go in.
“We rebounded, and we got out in transition and got some easy baskets, because Westerly is tenacious on defense. ... Just a great high school basketball game.”
Westerly had a 12-game winning streak coming in, with its full-court pressure its greatest weapon. Only one of the games during the streak was close, a narrow 66-63 win over EG on Jan. 29.
Bowen said Monday’s game was similarly fast paced, with both teams making runs.
The Avengers only had trouble with the press in the opening minutes (they turned it over on their first four possessions).
Once they settled down, the Avengers broke Westerly’s press by throwing over the first line of defense and then making a jail-break to the other end.
Westerly led 35-33 at the half on Hamelin’s runner just before the buzzer.
“That was our goal,” Bowen said. “If we could, beat the front line and have numbers moving forward to get to the glass and get our shooters in space without lock-down defense.
“In the half-court, we really struggled because they are very good defensively. But it’s difficult to play 94 feet for 32 minutes.”
The Avengers also turned the tables, pressing the Bulldogs in the second half and disrupting their offense.
“I feel it was very effective,” Bowen said.
“We were too tentative,” Gleason said. “We weren’t backing them up and getting them on their heels. We were breaking it to beat it instead of breaking it to score, which is kind of what we’ve done all year.
“But, again, you had the pressure in a playoff atmosphere and our guys were a little tentative. It was a game of runs, back and forth, and unfortunately they had the last run.”
Hamelin had a fine all-around game, finishing with 12 points, seven rebounds and sparking the defense. Murphy added 11 points and six rebounds, Bereket Janat had 10 points and 14 boards, and Morgan scored 10.
Westerly now awaits pairings for the state tournament.
“This hurts for sure,” Gleason said, “but we’ll get it together and see what the coming week looks like.”