NORTH SMITHFIELD — At halftime of this Division III-North rivalry clash against Burrillville High, North Smithfield head coach T.J. Ciolfi followed his troops off the floor and into a room for a pep talk of sorts.
“I told the kids that we live in spurts, and that they have to come off of our defense,” he stated of his club’s scant 23-19 cushion. “I also said that they did a really good job of playing at their tempo, and that we don’t like playing a half-court game.
“I reinforced that we hadn’t hit our spurt yet, but that it was going to come,” he added. “It was just a matter of time, and they listened.”
That’s for sure. The Northmen manufactured a 7-0 surge early in the final session, then turned it into a 15-4 run in the span of 4:30 to coast to a 66-44 triumph in this “Battle of Unbeatens” at Lovett Memorial Gymnasium on Monday night.
With the verdict, Ciolfi and Co. remained unbeaten at 3-0 in league action while improving to 4-1 overall. The Broncos fell to 2-1.
Senior tri-captain and forward Matthew Walkow led the Northmen with game-highs of 25 points and 13 rebounds, while senior transfer Cody L’Heureux finished with 17 points and seven boards and junior forward Peter Keenan 13 points and nine rebounds. Fellow tri-captain Daniel Jordan mustered seven points and the same amount of assists.
As for Burrillville, only seniors Ben Girard and Tyler Sonier reached double figures, notching 12 and 10 points, respectively, though the latter pulled down seven boards.
What hurt Burrillville more than anything were 26 turnovers, including 15 through the first 16 minutes alone.
“We had a ton of turnovers,” offered head coach Kevin Randall after the defeat. “They went on that flurry when we let them get out and run. One of our main goals was to take away Cody L’Heureux, one of their top scorers, and we did a pretty good job of that in the first half (he only scored four), but – when we let them get out in transition – that’s why the final score was what it was.”
North Smithfield needed only 5:04 to take advantage of its foe’s fifth turnover, Walkow draining a layup, to gain a 9-2 advantage, but Burrillville assembled a 7-0 surge of its own to tie it at 9-9. Highlighting that rally was sophomore center Isaiah DeSilva’s layup off a theft and Sonier’s 15-footer.
Sonier gave the Broncos their first lead of the game at 13-11 with a follow off a layin at the 8:12 mark, but Jordan’s three-pointer with 5:17 left gave the Northmen the lead back at 17-15.
Down the stretch, with the score tied for the fourth (and last) time at 19-19, L’Heureux canned a pair of free throws and Walkow a driving baseline layup with 42.2 ticks left to enter the break at 23-19.
Burrillville opened the last stanza with a Girard trey, but Jordan hit Keenan with a pretty pass for a low hook, then was fouled and converted it into a three-point play to make it 26-22 with 13:20 remaining. Twelve seconds later, Brett Correia hit a baseline leaner and Sonier a putback to slice the deficit back to two at 28-26.
Yet, with 11:57 on the clock, L’Heureux drained two free throws, Jordan netted a trey and Walkow a layin to highlight the 7-0 run in the span of only 74 seconds; that gave North Smithfield a 37-28 advantage. It then took advantage of another Walkow lay-in on a terrific inside move, and that sparked an 8-2 surge that lifted the hosts to a 45-30 lead with 7:27 left.
A mere 1:53 later, following Walkow’s conventional three-point play, the Northmen had added five unanswered points to make it 50-30, and L’Heureux’s easy bucket off a turnover with 2:08 remaining pretty much iced it at 61-37.
“We didn’t start the game the way we should have, not the way we started the second half,” Ciolfi said. “I told the kids that to beat the really good teams in Division III, you’ve got to start strong. I mean, scoring 23 points in a first half? That’s not good. It’s also not the way we’ve been scoring.
“We finally got back to our transition game in the second half, and that was the key,” he added. “Having Cody on this team is big. He’s a great kid who transferred in from Woonsocket (High), and we’re glad to have him.”