WAKEFIELD â€” They're called â€śbunniesâ€ť for a reason.
Shea High had a lot of elementary looks at the bucket in the initial half of this R.I. Division II Tournament quarterfinal tilt against North Providence on Wednesday night, but not many tickled the twine.
And, while the Raiders' frustration was obvious, head coach Matt Pita gave them a more-than-positive outlook after heading into their locker room behind, 28-24, at the break.
â€śI just told the kids to keep playing,â€ť he stated. â€śWe missed a ton of easy shots in the first half, but I said, 'Keep playing basketball, be patient and have some fun. We're going to hit those shots.' I don't think it was nerves because several shots were in and out.
â€śI really didn't want them to get down on themselves because we were down four; I figured we'd eventually get it going.â€ť
Call Pita either a clairvoyant or master at inspiration. Shea, with a No. 6 seed, controlled the boards from the outset of the final session, manufactured a 10-0 run in the first four minutes and rolled to a 63-55 mild-upset victory over the third-ranked Cougars here at the Veterans Memorial Gymnasium.
Senior co-captain Eli Itkin registered 11 of his team-leading 21 points in that stanza and junior guard Chris Mainville nine of his 14 to propel the Raiders (16-7 overall) into a D-II semifinal contest against the victor of second-seeded Westerly and seventh-ranked West Warwick at 6 p.m., Friday at Bryant University.
Itkin also chipped in eight rebounds and six assists, while Mainville recorded four more passes for baskets. Senior forward Alvin Semedo contributed a â€śdouble-doubleâ€ť with 12 points and 10 rebounds, and senior co-captain Tito DoCouto five points, five blocks and four assists.
For North Providence, which closed its season with a 16-6 record, senior guard Joel Diaz netted a contest-high 22 points, classmate and backcourt-mate Sam Odukoya 11 points and senior center Jake DiDomenico 10.
Behind four at the start of the second half, Semedo needed just 30 seconds to drain a turnaround eight-footer, and that opened the floodgates. Senior Nathan Lopes dropped a baseline 16-foot jumper to knot the score at 28-28 for only the third time, DoCouto landed a 12-footer, Itkin a diving layup and Semedo an 11-footer off a steal to give the Raiders a 34-28 advantage.
In the interim, the Cougars â€“ like the Raiders early on â€“ couldn't hit some simple tries, and didn't score until Diaz canned a scoop with 10:49 remaining. Incredibly, Pita and Co. had not allowed their foes a point for 5:11 of the last session, and 6:41 going back to the 90-second mark of the first half.
Shea kept up the pressure and dominated the defensive glass; after Semedo hit a short hook with 7:31 left, it led, 44-35, though NP continued to battle. At that point, Diaz produced a trey and Odukoya a baseline leaner to slice the deficit to 44-40 with 6:47 remaining.
Itkin responded with a three-point bomb of his own to push it to 47-40 only 1:30 later, but Diaz ripped another trey with 1:26 left to pull to within three (55-52).
A mere 11 ticks later, Itkin landed his last of four treys to make it 58-52; Mainville, however, canned a pair from the charity stripe with 16.2 seconds remaining to clinch it.
The Raiders committed a season-low 11 turnovers, while NP had 15. The Cougars only suffered four personal fouls in the first half, but finished with 14. Officials whistled Shea for eight in the initial session, though only six more in the last.
â€śWe came out and scored the first 10 points in the second half, and never looked back,â€ť Pita grinned afterward. â€śEli hit some 'threes' when we needed them. They made a run at us a couple of times, but we were able to answer.
â€śI thought the key was our defensive rebounding,â€ť he added. â€śTito and Nate (Lopes), they were in foul trouble in the first half, but they went out and controlled the boards in the second. After the game, I just told them they did a great job, and now we're moving on to the semis.
â€śI also told them, 'Be at practice (today) at 10 a.m. and be ready to work hard.' I'm excited; this team could go places.â€ť