The Patriots knocked off previously undefeated Central Falls at home, 70-63, in a hard-fought game which Portsmouth took over shortly before the first half ended.
“We hadn’t played in a week because of the snowstorm,” said head coach Joe Occhi. “They were clearly a little foggy in there first half. They were all charged up in the locker room, but when they came out their energy was low and you could tell they weren’t right. But you know what, I’m proud of them. They fought through it. We closed out the first half real well and played a real good second half.”The Patriots stayed in the game in the second hand primarily through its defense, which forced several key turnovers, as well as the strong shooting by freshman forward Cole Swider, who had his best game yet.
Swider scored a game-high 28 points, 17 of which came in the first half including a couple of 3-pointers. He was also solid at the free-throw line, hitting 12 of 15 attempts.
“He played real well tonight. He also had some good looks,” Mr. Occhi said of Swider.
The team also fed off the energy of senior guard Brennan Tierney, who not only had 14 points but also recorded five steals and four assists.
“Brennan Tierney has played a hell of a game all season. He’s got energy, he’s everywhere. He had a huge steal when it was still only about a 3- or 4-point game,” the coach said.
Senior guard Matt Sewall also had an impressive, well-rounded game. He ended up with 12 points, six rebounds, six steals and six assists. In the second half he dazzled with two blind passes that led to scores, both to Swider. In the first, Swider hit a jumper from the baseline, was fouled and made the free throw. In the second he scored from underneath, which made the score 56-51 with 6:20 left.
Junior forward Chris Carpenzano also had a good game, scoring 10 points.
The first half was a scratch-and-claw affair, with Portsmouth going out to a 5-2 lead early on before the Warriors went off on a 7-0 run. Portsmouth forced a good number of turnovers, however, such as a steal that that led to a two-on-one breakaway with junior forward Colin Tullson feeding Ryan McVicker for a layup. Later, Cole Swider hit a 3-pointer after the Patriots forced another turnover with just over a minute left in the first half.
Patriots take over
The game was tied 29-29 at halftime, but after that it was all Patriots. Central Fall was forcing shots and that played into the Patriots’ hands. Portsmouth got a little sloppy at one point, with a turnover making it a 48-46 game with 9 minutes left, but the team settled down nicely after that.
Despite the impressive win, Mr. Occhi saw some flaws in his team’s play.
“Our interior defense was not so good. We gave up a lot on there back end tonight, which we usually don’t, so we have to address that in practice,” he said.
But overall, he was proud of his squad’s gritty play.
“This was a good test. Central Falls came in 6-0 and we didn’t bend at all,” he said.
The Patriots are now 4-3 in Division II-East. They next play West Warwick at home Monday night, then travel to Lincoln Tuesday night. The return home Friday night, Jan. 31, for a matchup with North Providence.