CUMBERLAND — 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 “D” forced most of Lincoln’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 High’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 Classic’s championship tilt tonight at 7:30. The Clippers will duel Lincoln at 6 in the consolation game.
“Our defense won the game for us,” Kayata stated after his club raised its record to 2-1 overall. “I thought we defended really well off their screens; that’s something Lincoln loves doing. We didn’t allow too many penetrations off screens, so I was happy with that.
“But our offense struggled; we weren’t getting the ball to the right people like we should have,” he added. “Otis was hot early on, but he cooled off. Why, I don’t know, but we haven’t practiced the last two days because of Christmas. That’s why we came out flat. We just didn’t play with much intensity, especially at the start of the second half.”
Ahead 28-15 entering the break, DePina’s bucket 94 seconds in doubled up the Lions at 30-15.
Head coach Kent Crooks’ bunch, though, responded – 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 Lions’ 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 – over the next 4:24 – 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 didn’t help their cause.
“Early to the midway point of the second half, our players lost Lincoln’s kids on screens,” Kayata stated. “We eventually forced them away from the basket, and they were settling for 15- to 17-foot jumpers. That’s why we went on that run.”
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 – after a Cronan 12-footer – nailed a pull-up 16-footer and a “three-bomb.”
From Denio’s basket at 13:43 to Gagnon’s double-pump jumper at 5:36 – in the span of only 8:07 – the Tigers outscored their foes, 19-4, and coasted into the break with a 28-15 advantage.
As for the Clippers-Novans’ 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 Novans’ 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 – 16 seconds later – Desimpelaere fired home a “three-ball” 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.