Hendricken basketball coach Jamal Gomes isn’t one for moral victories, but he was almost willing to make an exception after Monday’s game.
The Hawks battled unbeaten North Kingstown every step of the way before a late surge by the Skippers lifted them to a 56-50 victory. Hendricken dropped to 2-3 in league play – and to a very unfamiliar last place spot in Division I-South – but the general feelings in the locker room were positive.
“We’re not big into moral victories,” Gomes said. “It stinks to lose, but there’s no doubt we’re getting better. Every game we play, every practice, we’re getting better.”
With an inexperienced lineup and no proven scorers, the Hawks expected some ups and downs this season, and they’ve gotten them. Hendricken edged Hope in its league opener before falling to Cranston East and Classical. The Hawks started the new year with a win over Central.
While Monday’s loss kept the Hawks from getting a streak going, it didn’t signify an end to the progress.
“I give Hendricken a lot of credit,” said North Kingstown head coach Aaron Thomas. “I saw them play a couple of weeks ago and they’ve improved a lot. They’re playing more as a team. They did a nice job tonight.”
North Kingstown came in at 5-0 in league play, with an average margin of victory of 24 points. But the Hawks stayed close from the start, getting 13 first-half points from Will Tavares and limiting the Skippers to 35 percent shooting before halftime.
When Kazre Cummings stole a pass near mid-court and raced in for a thunderous dunk to give the Hawks an 18-15 lead late in the half, the upset bid was on.
“I’m proud of our guys because we’re getting better,” Gomes said. “They’re getting more comfortable playing with each other, sharing the basketball, we’re getting more aggressive on the offensive end. They’re starting to get it.”
Though the Skippers haven’t been challenged much this season, they were ready to take Hendricken’s punch. After the dunk and bucket inside by Garfield Coustard, the Skippers scored five quick points to tie the game. Hendricken then went in front with 3:10 left, but North scored the final six points of the half, with four of those points coming off turnovers.
Hendricken again made a run in the second half, with a driving layup by Tavares sparking 9-0 surge. North took a timeout with 9:26 left, trailing 39-34.
From there, the Skippers showed why they’re undefeated.
Out of the timeout, Owen Heath hit a jumper in the lane and Austin Barry followed with a layup. A basket by Coustard momentarily stemmed the tide, but the Skippers responded with six straight points, including a dunk by Justin Pratt that put North up 44-41 with 5:20 left.
“North Kingstown is right now No. 1 in the state for a reason,” Gomes said. “They have senior players, they have great balance, they can shoot it, they can score inside, they’ve got good leadership, they’ve got toughness. I thought our guys hung in there for the majority of the game. I think we got a little bit fatigued, and North Kingstown’s seniors stepped it up. They made their free throws. They made plays when they needed to make plays.”
The Hawks still had life and made it a one-point game on a bucket inside from Ryan Hagerty. But Pratt finished on a baseline drive on North’s next trip, and the Hawks never got closer than three the rest of the way.
Pratt also swooped across the lane for a putback with 1:51 left, pushing the lead to five. That shot proved to be the dagger. North put the game on ice with four free throws in the final minute.
“I think that’s the story of this team – five guys back from the team last year and a lot of guys who played together when they were younger,” Thomas said. “I don’t think anything intimidates them.”
Pratt scored 16 points to lead the Skippers, including eight of their last 14.
“He’s asked to do a lot,” Thomas said. “A lot of people think he’s just a shooter but we’ve been trying to get him close to the basket. With our lineup and our rotations, he’s often the second big man on the floor. He has to play that role for us. I was on him in one of the timeouts about not boxing out and letting people jump over his back. But at the end, when we needed it, he had two huge putbacks.”
Matt Quainoo added 12 points, and Chris Hess tallied 10. Barry and Owen Heath each had nine.
Tavares led Hendricken with 17 points. Though he was held in check in the second half, his first-half performance was another sign of his potential.
“When Will Tavares plays hard, he’s as good as anybody in the state of Rhode Island,” Gomes said. “When he plays hard and he’s determined – getting on the floor for loose balls, battling, pushing the ball up the floor, not hesitating on his shots – he is a tough, tough player.”
Coustard chipped in 10 points, and Ryan Hagerty scored seven.
Though the Hawks still didn’t set the world on fire offensively, they played the kind of overall game that they need to play.
“The mindset of our guys has to be we’ve got to battle,” Gomes said. “Every game, every possession, every minute, we’ve got to battle. I think when we do that, we’re going to be in every game and have opportunities to win. Hopefully as we get a little bit deeper, those will turn into wins for us.”
As the Hawks continue on that quest, they’ll keep facing challenges. They were scheduled to play 3-2 Cranston West on Wednesday, with results unavailable at press time. On Friday, they’ll welcome another unbeaten to town when 6-0 Coventry visits for a 7 p.m. game.
“We can’t really rest,” Gomes said. “It doesn’t get any easier. As long as we don’t have any let-ups and we keep improving, when it comes to February, I think we’re going to be tough.”