After a hard-fought game that went down to the wire in the Round of 16 against South Kingstown on Thursday, the Hendricken basketball team had a less stressful game in the Elite 8 at Brown University’s Pizzitola Center on Sunday, cruising past East Providence, 74-55, to secure a spot in the Final Four at The Ryan Center on Saturday.
After a hot start for both teams early in the first half, junior shooting guard Jalen Watson helped to create some separation with a game-high 19 points off the bench in the opening half alone, allowing the Hawks to take a 20-point lead into halftime.
“He came very focused to this game today, with a purpose, and he stepped up,” Hendricken head coach Jamal Gomes said of Watson.
The Townies kept pace with the Hawks early on, as a Dion Hazard 3 and a Deyshawn Tengbeh steal and score cut Hendricken’s lead to one, 21-20, with 8:43 left in the first half.
From there, the Hawks went on a 28-9 run to end the half.
Watson swished a 3 with 7:05 left to push the Hawks ahead by 3.
Justin Mazzulla then hit the offensive glass for a tip-in a minute later, and Watson hit another 3 on the ensuing possession to give Hendricken a six-point cushion.
That lead would continue to grow when Mazzulla fed T.J. Weeks in the paint, who powered through contact for an and-1, and Isaiah Mylers posterized an East Providence defender with a vicious and-1 dunk in transition shortly after to continue Hendricken’s big run.
While the Hawks were getting good looks on the offensive end, they were also able to shut down the Townies’ offense simultaneously.
East Providence junior Ben Sears netted 11 points over the first eight minutes of the first half, before being shut down for the rest of the game, failing to get in the scoring column over the final 24 minutes of play.
“In our first meeting against East Providence, they struggled against the pressure, so we were trying to see what was going to work,” Gomes said about the defensive game plan early on. “East Providence did a nice job of attacking our extended pressure and getting open shots. We weren’t transitioning out of our pressure defense and matching up with their perimeter players. That kid Sears hit some big shots, he was on fire. Then, we took our defense back and kept them in front of us, and that was very effective for us.”
Watson capped his first-half performance with a layup just before the buzzer to give Hendricken a 49-29 lead heading into the locker room.
Watson’s 19-point effort is exactly what Hendricken needs if it wants to make a run at a second consecutive title.
Mazzulla and Weeks are going to attract attention from opposing defenses, so scoring from other sources will be crucial heading into this weekend.
“His role is to come in and play tough defense, and then when he’s open, he has to catch it and shoot,” Gomes said of Watson. “He made his first one, got his rhythm and exploded from there. He hasn’t shot the ball well the last few games, but we need him. Everyone knows T.J. and Justin, but you have to have other guys step up. Against Mount Pleasant, it was Bobby (Fiorito) making a big shot. Tonight, it was Jalen making big shots. You have to have that if you’re going to be successful as a unit.”
East Providence’s deficit was simply too large to overcome in the second half.
Watson stole the ball five minutes in and dished to Mazzulla, who found Angel Sanchez cutting to the basket for an and-1.
Mazzulla then drove to the basket and spun off his defender for an easy deuce to make it 60-40 with nine minutes remaining.
Hendricken was able to hold off the Townies for the 19-point victory.
In addition to Watson’s game-high 19 points, Weeks scored 14 and Sanchez finished with 12.
Tengbeh posted a team-high 13 points for East Providence.
Hendricken will now advance to the Final Four to play North Kingstown on Saturday at The Ryan Center at 4 p.m.
The Hawks and Skippers split their season series, 1-1.
The winner will move on to face the winner of St. Raphael and Shea on Sunday at 6 p.m. for the state crown.
“If we battle for a state title, it’s going to be because of our defense,” Gomes said. “I’m just happy we have a chance to get back to The Ryan Center.”