Strong second half helps Raiders eliminate Pats
David Cabeceiras buried a 3-pointer from the left corner at Roger Williams University and with 8 minutes, 43 seconds left in the game, the No. 14-seeded Pilgrim boys’ basketball team trailed No. 3 Shea by three points. Upset potential.
And in the blink of an eye, the game turned into a blowout.
So what happened? Shea happened, as the Raiders play the best six minutes of basketball the state has seen all season, turning a once-close ballgame into a 93-70 rout and ending Pilgrim's season while leaving everyone watching wondering what just happened.
“Our game plan was to keep an eye on [Shea star guard] Erickson Bans and do whatever we could on the outside and let the chips fall where they may,” Pilgrim coach Chris LeBlanc said. “They didn't hit anything in the first half. We didn't do much in the first half and in the second half they decided to hit seven 3s.”
“We just got over anxious and didn't play within ourselves. We started playing their game, which is fast and athletic,” said Pilgrim's Matt Woods, who scored 19 points and had seven assists in the loss. “We're athletic too, but there's a difference between speed and settling down.”
Shea showed what that difference was.
In the 6:14 after Cabeceiras’ 3-pointer that cut Pilgrim's deficit to 59-56, the Raiders outscored the Pats 31-10. They scored on 15 of 17 possessions in every way possible. An and-one. A 3-pointer. A deep 3-pointer. A deeper 3-pointer. A hook shot. Layups. An incredible play where Bans passed up an easy layup for a no-look, alley-oop pass that Abdul Ajia thunderously threw down.
The Raiders finished the run going 12-for-15 from the floor, making 5 of 7 from the 3-point line and hitting 2 of 3 free throws. Pilgrim put up solid stats during the run – scoring on 6 of 15 possessions, hitting 4 of 13 from the field and making 2 of 4 free throws – but what Shea was doing was unanswerable.
“We had to match those and it seemed like every time we had a basket they'd get a 3 and it chopped our momentum into pieces,” Woods said. “It was tough that way when they started hitting and it wasn't going our way.”
While Shea was unstoppable during the run, the Pats did a heck of a job getting the Raiders to play at a more manageable pace for the first 24 minutes.
With absolutely nothing to lose, Pilgrim put in some work on the defensive end. The Pats forced tough shots and if not for Shea dominating the offensive glass and scoring 17 second-chance points, the first half couldn't have gone any better.
“Our bigs are big, but we kind of lack that athleticism,” LeBlanc said. “Malik [Muhammed-Hester of Shea] is 6-2 but he plays 6-6. They would send three or four guys to the glass and we don't usually send our guard to the glass but today we did. It had us a little off balance.”
“We'd box out but they're tall and athletic and they just overpowered us at times,” Woods said. “We could have done a little bit better, but with athletes like those, I have nothing but respect for those guys.”
Pilgrim opened with an 8-3 lead and maintained a lead most of the half. The Pats went up 22-17 on a jumper by Jake Gonsalves, assisted by Sam LaFrance, with 6:14 left when Shea went on its first run, capping a 12-3 burst with a layup by Bans.
“We just wanted to play our style,” Woods said. “We didn't want to get in the up and down with them because they could go forever and have people who could go forever.”
Down 39-33 at the break, Pilgrim opened with a 15-6 run, scoring on its first seven possessions, highlighted by back-to-back 3-pointers by Woods, who made a foul shot to give Pilgrim a 48-45 lead.
The Raiders came back, predictably, to take the lead, but Pilgrim continued to stay strong.
And then Shea happened, ending a season that was nothing but a success for a team that had to learn to become one well before practice began.
“Losing's not fun when you're an athlete,” Woods said. “I'm proud of the guys. I love this team to death. They're my brothers and we just have to keep going.”
“We moved up from Division III last year. I'm proud that of all the D-III teams that moved up, we had the best record,” LeBlanc said. “This was the season that [Pilgrim and Warwick Veterans] came together. We had to find this melting point and I think we did.”