Down by eight points with just over six minutes left, the Bishop Hendricken basketball team looked dead in the water against defending state runner-up Hope during Tuesday’s Division I opener.
The Hawks had struggled offensively all game, and the Blue Wave started to assert itself in the second half. But in the last few moments – with a young, inexperienced team – Hendricken’s few veterans stepped up and seized a dramatic victory.
Trailing 33-25, the Hawks scored 11 the last 13 points in the final 6:07 and outlasted two Hope shots at the buzzer to start the season 1-0 with a 36-35 win.
Senior Will Tavares scored seven of those 11 points, while fellow seniors Kazre Cummings and Ryan Hagerty each scored two apiece.
Those three are far and way the most experienced players on the roster.
“You’ve got to play hard, you’ve got to play with a lot of heart and aggressiveness,” Hendricken head coach Jamal Gomes said. “You’ve got to fight. That’s what our guys did, right down to the end.”
The Blue Wave, who narrowly missed winning the state title last season and return most of their core players this year, missed 11 of their final 12 shots and turned the ball over three times during Hendricken’s comeback.
And while the Hawks’ defense down the stretch was crucial, it still came down to whether or not the offense could finally put the ball in the basket.
It did. Hendricken made 5-of-7 free throws to close out the game, including two from Tavares with 17.7 seconds left to turn a one-point deficit into a one-point advantage
“I’ve got to give Hope credit,” said Tavares, who led all scorers with 15 points. “They play tough defensively. It’s hard to get a shot off. But we found way to get it down the stretch and get buckets.”
At the 6:07 mark in the second half, Hope’s Ben Vezele converted a fast-break layup to put the Blue Wave up 33-25. Tavares was fouled on Hendricken’s next possession and made both shots, and two possessions later he scored inside and was fouled. He missed the free throw, but the Hawks were within four points.
After a Hope miss, its third in a row, Tavares attacked the basket yet again and was fouled. He made one of two, making the score 33-30 and cutting into the Blue Wave lead a little more.
Hope got two offensive rebounds and missed three shots on its next possession, and Hagerty scored for Hendricken from the block and was fouled. He, too, missed the free throw, but suddenly the Hawks were within a point.
“We got down eight with four or five minutes to go and our guys had fight,” Gomes said.
Again, Hope had three opportunities on its next trip up the court, but it came up empty on all three – bringing its streak to nine consecutive missed shots.
The Hawks took advantage, as Cummings was fouled inside and made both free throws to put Hendricken up 34-33, its first lead since 18-17.
The teams exchanged two possessions each until a fast-break layup by Hope standout Manny Kargbo put the Blue Wave back up 35-34 with 1:15 to play. It was the Blue Wave’s first bucket in nearly five minutes.
Hendricken misfired on its next chance, but Cummings forced Kargbo into an offensive foul on the next series. Then Tavares took over, cutting to the hoop and getting fouled with just under 18 seconds to play. He knocked down both shots to put the Hawks back on top.
“I practice free throws every day,” Tavares said. “That’s an every day thing for me, so it doesn’t really concern me. I knew I could hit them.”
After a timeout, Hope had two looks at the game-winner, but neither fell. Vezele’s runner was off the mark and Devante Youn’s putback attempt hit the side of the rim.
The Hawks could celebrate their first win in a home opener since 2009. Each of the last two years, they’ve lost to North Kingstown.
“We were fortunate,” Gomes said. “Hope had a couple of opportunities that didn’t go. We kind of needed this.”
The first half was a battle for survival, as each team struggled to find its footing in the early going of the season’s first league game.
Hagerty scored for Hendricken just over one minute into the game, and the score remained 2-0 until Vezele scored for Hope more than five minutes later.
The score was 12-12 late in the half. Hendricken scored four of the final six points to take a 16-14 lead into half, but it certainly wasn’t pretty.
The Hawks had 16 turnovers in the half, including seven in the first 5:30. Hope wasn’t much better, with 12 of their own.
But Hendricken started freshman point guard Kyle Henseler and sophomore shooting guard Matt Duffie, neither or whom have any varsity experience. The three players who came off the bench were in a similar boat.
Growing pains are expected as everyone gets comfortable.
“We have some young kids,” Tavares said. “We’re trying to get their jitters out. They’ll be fine. By the end of the season, everyone will come together. We’ll get better and better as the season goes on.”
Hendricken also won without a big day from Cummings, one of the team’s top players, who played sparingly because of foul trouble and an injury late in the game.
“That’s what a team is all about,” Gomes said. “We’ve got to be there for each other, lift each other up when somebody’s down. Everyone’s got to fill in the gaps and the holes.”
Hagerty added eight points for the Hawks, while Cummings had five, Duffie had four and Billy Parmlee had four. For Hope, Kargbo and Vezele had nine apiece, while Dennis Wilson had eight.
The Hawks will try to pick up another win on Friday, when they play their first road game of the season at East Providence at 7 p.m.
“Like I said, a lot of inexperience,” Gomes said. “Right now we’ve got to take it any way we can get it. I think we’ll just build on it.”