There is one basketball adage that rings true, agonizingly true for the Mt. Hope High boys’ basketball squad Wednesday night. The team that lives by the 3 dies by the 3.
The Huskies have embraced the long ball all season, bombing their merry way to 11 Division-Three wins, 14 overall victories and to their first playoff berth in 10 years. But against No. 3 seed East Greenwich in the playoff quarterfinals, Mt. Hope misfired too much in the opening 16 minutes to make up for it in the second half of a tantalizingly narrow 59-56 loss at Westerly High School.
“That’s what we do,” Mt. Hope coach John McDonough said. “In the first half it just wasn’t dropping for us. In the second half obviously it was. The first half you go down like that you need to get a little more than good play, you need a little luck. We didn’t get any luck.”
Mt. Hope miraculously rallied back from as much as 17 points down and still trailed by nine with a minute left. The Huskies, down by three, got the ball back under their own basket with 1.6 seconds remaining and had to go the length of the floor for an attempt. The ball made it past half court but Mt. Hope couldn’t get a shot off before the final buzzer.
“We were down three points. We had one play at the end for the tie and it just didn’t work,” McDonough said.
East Greenwich coach Matt Records was left wiping his brow at game’s end. He watched his team keep the Huskies in the game thanks to missing nine of 10 free throws in the final 40 seconds. The Avengers began wilting earlier in the second half when Mt. Hope became more aggressive defensively.
“It was extremely hectic,” Records said. “The coach made a good decision to pick us up man which made the pace of play quicker and in Mt. Hope’s favor with the firepower they have.”
Ben Francis was the main shooter, better yet, the best connector, as he dropped in nine three-pointers for a game-best 27 points. Francis, who picked up his third personal foul with 3:40 left in the first half, hit seven of those shots in the second half with most coming from 28- to 30-feet from the hoop.
“I’ve got a tremendous respect for all Mt. Hope shooters but I think it was Francis hitting all the threes,” Records said. “He was lights-out phenomenal tonight. It’s not like we didn’t have a kid in his face. Deeper and deeper he went. He kept their team in the game.”
In the second half with the Huskies down 17, Francis hit a three from the left corner. Still down 14 Francis scored the next 12 Mt. Hope points from beyond the arc to pull his team back to within six. His shooting sparked an 18-5 run which left East Greenwich clinging to a 44-43 lead with 2:44 to play.
“He was missing the first half but he was on fire the second half,” McDonough said. “It just didn’t seem to make a difference where he was. He caught. He fired. It went.”
After Mt. Hope pulled to within one the Avengers answered with seven straight points. Then Francis drained probably his deepest three to get the Huskies back to five down. East Greenwich next hit five of six free throws compared to one free throw for Mt. Hope to push the advantage back to nine with a minute left.
Two of the four times East Greenwich players went to the free throw line during that span it was because they grabbed an offensive rebound off a missed free throw. They were fouled immediately and put back on the line. The Avengers, led by 17 rebounds and 15 points from 6’6” center Brandon Eckles, outrebounded the Huskies 47-35.
“When you play the foul game at the end you can’t give up the offensive rebounds,” McDonough said. “That’s fundamental. We should have been able to get them.”
Francis hit his final three with 51 seconds left to get the score to 56-50. A pair of Ben Chester free throws restored an eight-point lead for the Avs with 49 seconds to play. East Greenwich then went 1-for-10 from the line the rest of the game while the Huskies bombed away.
Matt Scott scored from beyond the arc to hack the lead to five with 31 seconds left and then substitute Matt McGee swished a three from the right corner with 3.7 seconds left to make it 59-56. East Greenwich missed two free throws, Scott grabbed his team-best 14th rebound, and the Huskies called timeout to set up the last-gasp play which on this night did not work.
“The nice thing about coaching this team is they never quit,” said McDonough. “Any time we went down we always made it close. They never stopped. They never got nervous. They never got upset. They played hard till the end.”
Mt. Hope should take some consolation in its effort throughout the season. The Huskies had compiled a 34-126 league record over the past nine years prior to winning the Division-Two state tile in 2003. Their best record during that span was 6-12. This season ended with Mt. Hope 14-8 overall.
“When I came here I expected to win. A high school of this size, it just didn’t make sense they weren’t winning,” McDonough said. “I don’t know if anybody else was expecting this but I was and I think (the players) were too. I think when we beat Rogers the first game they knew they were going to the playoffs. The courage of these kids was amazing all year.”
Scott finished with 13 points and Kyle Valenzuela had eight points. Seniors Eric Pattie, Pat Guthlein, Isiah Rodriguez, McGee and Francis played their last game for the Huskies. Mt. Hope attempted 52 three-point shots and made 14 (27 percent). Mt. Hope made just three of 25 three-point tries in the first half before going 11-for-30 the second half. The Huskies were 3-for-8 from inside the three-point line and shot 28 percent (17-for-60) from the floor overall. East Greenwich was 20-for-54 from the field (37 percent) and 5-for-19 (26 percent) from three-point land. Mt. Hope was 8-for-13 (62 percent) from the free throw line compared to 13-for-30 (43 percent) for the Avengers.