The Toll Gate basketball team has stood up to nearly every challenge in the early going this season, and they faced another one on Monday night at Moses Brown.
And again, the Titans rose to the occasion.
Using a solid first half and some timely second-half stops, Toll Gate took care of the Quakers 54-41 to improve to 5-1 in Division III-Central. Moses Brown fell to 3-3.
It was the third straight victory for the Titans, who remained in first place in the division. Their only league loss on the season is to Juanita Sanchez back on Dec. 18.
“They’re a solid team, we’re a solid team,” Toll Gate head coach Tom Rayko said. “The division is pretty open. Anybody can beat anybody on any given night. I don’t think we can take anybody lightly.”
Senior captain John Murphy led the Titans charge on Monday, tallying 21 points to go along with numerous big plays defensively. He scored 13 points in the first half as the Titans built a 28-14 lead at the break.
“Huge on the boards, shooting, ball-handling,” Rayko said of Murphy. “He did it all tonight. He had a phenomenal game.”
Toll Gate never trailed, as it took a 12-0 lead in the game’s first five minutes, and didn’t allow a Moses Brown point until Sebastian Ferrell hit one free throw with 10:36 to play.
Murphy scored the first eight points of the game, while Tyler Inkley and John Coleman added buckets as well.
“Tonight, we started out really well,” Rayko said. “We were able to put the ball in the basket early.”
Moses Brown closed the gap quickly with a 9-0 run of its own, and continued to keep the game close when Nicholas Snow hit a three-pointer to make it 18-14.
But the Titans closed the half with a bang.
Inkley got it started with a layup, and Murphy scored and was fouled on the next possession. Ben Mann hit a short jumper after that, and Kyle Toolin buried a three with just over a minute remaining to polish off a 10-0 run heading into the half.
“I’d like to keep that going, to be perfectly honest with you,” Rayko said. “I hate when we do that and then relax. I’d like to keep that momentum going as much as possible. It’s a game of waves anyway.”
Toll Gate kept the momentum early in the second half, scoring the first six points on a layup by Mann and two putbacks by Murphy to take a 34-14 lead.
“I just had to attack the basket,” Murphy said. “Just pick spots and attack the basket, take contact.”
Yet, Moses Brown – which made three three-pointers – wasn’t quite ready to throw in the towel, even down 20.
The Quakers started full court pressing and firing away from long range. They often connected. Thomas Chase made it 38-22 with 11:45 left on a long-range shot, and Ferrell hit another one with 8:48 to cut the lead to 40-28.
On Moses Brown’s next possession, Chase hit another three to cut the lead down to 10 at 41-31.
“You just can’t give up,” Murphy said of his team’s attitude during Moses Brown’s comeback. “You just have to keep fighting, play your game. You don’t want to give them any chance to get back in it.
The Titans got a layup from Coleman and two free throws from Murphy to re-up the lead to 14, but Chase hit another three to make it an 11-point game.
After Murphy was fouled, he missed the front end of a one-and-one, and Snow buried a three on the other side for Moses Brown to cut Toll Gate’s lead down to single digits at 45-37.
“They made some really big threes,” Rayko said. “I think we were even in position and they made some big threes.”
Coleman scored on the Titans’ next possession to make it a 10-point game with 5:42 left, and then both teams went cold. Toll Gate turned the ball over on two of its next five possessions and missed a free throw and two shots on the other three, while Moses Brown committed a turnover and missed four shots.
Toll Gate got a spark off the bench from Evan Stamps, who stepped in front of Chase on a fast-break and took a charge at a time when every possession was crucial.
“Another standout for us was Evan Stamps,” Rayko said. “I thought he grew a lot. He made some really nice plays.”
Moses Brown got one free throw from Chase with 2:40 left to get within nine again, but a layup by Inkley put the Titans back up by 11. The Quakers made one more run when Snow knocked down his fourth three of the game with 1:35 to play, making the score 49-41, but Toll Gate scored the last five points of the game to finish the job.
Murphy’s 21 points were a game high, and Inkley added 12. Coleman scored eight, while Mann scored seven. For Moses Brown, Chase led the way with 16, while Ferrell had 13 and Snow had 12. Those three were the only Quakers to score, and they combined to make 10 three-pointers.
The victory was a good start to what is shaping up as a tough week for the Titans. Their next game is today at home against unbeaten Middletown at 7 p.m., and they host East Greenwich on Friday at 7 p.m. East Greenwich is 5-1.
“We’re definitely capable of doing better and I think this is the start of it right here,” Murphy said. “Big week. Thursday and Friday we have home games. It’s a good start so far.”