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CUMBERLAND â€” Tolman High head coach Mike Kayata admitted to being less than ecstatic about his offense on Thursday night.
His defense, however, was a different story.
Excepting a lull early in the final stanza, that â€śDâ€ť forced most of Lincolnâ€™s 18 turnovers throughout the first half and down the stretch as the Tigers rolled to a 56-40 victory in the first semifinal of the 41st annual Boys & Girls Club of Cumberland/Lincoln Roadshow Holiday Classic at Cumberland Highâ€™s Wellness Center.
Senior tri-captain and guard Steve Otis led Tolman with a game-high 16 points while grabbing seven rebounds. Junior center/forward Nate Gagnon chipped in nine points and seven boards, and senior tri-captain Tyler Reece eight points and a team-leading 12 rebounds.
Other key contributions came from senior center/forward Denzel DePina (10 points, eight boards); sophomore guard Tyreal Whitaker; and senior Keanu Perry (three points).
Senior co-captain Tyge Joyce paced the Lions with 14 points, while sophomore Tyler Britt recorded nine and junior Steve Denio eight.
With the verdict, the Tigers now will play Woonsocket, a 69-65 victor over host Cumberland in the nightcap, in the Classicâ€™s championship tilt tonight at 7:30. The Clippers will duel Lincoln at 6 in the consolation game.
â€śOur defense won the game for us,â€ť Kayata stated after his club raised its record to 2-1 overall. â€śI thought we defended really well off their screens; thatâ€™s something Lincoln loves doing. We didnâ€™t allow too many penetrations off screens, so I was happy with that.
â€śBut our offense struggled; we werenâ€™t getting the ball to the right people like we should have,â€ť he added. â€śOtis was hot early on, but he cooled off. Why, I donâ€™t know, but we havenâ€™t practiced the last two days because of Christmas. Thatâ€™s why we came out flat. We just didnâ€™t play with much intensity, especially at the start of the second half.â€ť
Ahead 28-15 entering the break, DePinaâ€™s bucket 94 seconds in doubled up the Lions at 30-15.
Head coach Kent Crooksâ€™ bunch, though, responded â€“ and then some.
After the two foes traded buckets, Lincoln sophomore Tyler Britt came off the bench and ignited his teammates. He drained a trey to make it 32-20 with 11:26 left in regulation, then hit a 16-foot jumper and a running one-hander, giving him all nine of his points in the span of 2:01.
That last basket sliced the Lionsâ€™ deficit to 35-27 with 9:25 remaining.
Lincoln (1-3 overall) actually cut it to 37-32 with 7:55 still on the clock after nailing a free throw, but â€“ over the next 4:24 â€“ Tolman managed a 13-2 flurry of its own to put the game out of reach.
It did so due to the efforts of Gagnon (four points), Otis (an acrobatic, conventional three-point play with 4:09 left) and Reece.
All told, over the final 7:55, the Tigers outscored their opponent, 19-9. The fact the Lions went cold in that span didnâ€™t help their cause.
â€śEarly to the midway point of the second half, our players lost Lincolnâ€™s kids on screens,â€ť Kayata stated. â€śWe eventually forced them away from the basket, and they were settling for 15- to 17-foot jumpers. Thatâ€™s why we went on that run.â€ť
The Lions led briefly early on in the opening half, the last time at 5-4 after the 6-4 Denio landed a bucket.
After that, Tolman controlled the tempo, the turnover battle and the boards, and did so by way of the talents of Otis and DePina, With 13:32 left before intermission, DePina canned a free throw before junior Tyler Reece dropped a six-foot hook.
Otis mustered consecutive layups off a pair of 11 Lincoln turnovers in the stanza, then â€“ after a Cronan 12-footer â€“ nailed a pull-up 16-footer and a â€śthree-bomb.â€ť
From Denioâ€™s basket at 13:43 to Gagnonâ€™s double-pump jumper at 5:36 â€“ in the span of only 8:07 â€“ the Tigers outscored their foes, 19-4, and coasted into the break with a 28-15 advantage.
As for the Clippers-Novansâ€™ clash, the two fought to a 33-33 deadlock at intermission.
The second session saw more of the same, as it included six ties and three lead changes, but Woonsocket utilized a late 9-2 surge to stop the hosts.
Senior tri-captain/guard Randy Reyes manufactured a game-high 21 points in the win, while classmate Blaine Desimpelaere and junior Angel Robles notched a dozen each (with six of the Novansâ€™ eight treys). Another senior, tri-captain/center Piotr Linek, posted nine.
For the Clippers (2-3 overall), senior co-captain Grant Osmundson netted 20 and talented frosh Brandon Kolek 19. Fellow senior captain Ryan Cotter helped out with 11 and classmate Joe Fine six.
Reyes landed a three-pointer with 3:50 remaining in regulation to give the Novans a 61-58 lead, and Jeovan Fortes hit a putback off his own rebound 33 ticks later to extend it.
Junior Tyler Calabro tightened the gap to 63-60 with a pair of foul shots, though Linek hit one of two freebies to push the lead to 64-60 with 2:35 left.
Cotter fouled out with 74 ticks left, and â€“ 16 seconds later â€“ Desimpelaere fired home a â€śthree-ballâ€ť to put the game out of reach. For good measure, Reyes downed a couple from the charity stripe to give WHS a 69-60 lead with 27 ticks remaining.