By BRENDAN McGAIR
The R.I. boys’ basketball open state tournament got underway Wednesday with four “Round of 16” games that were decided by a grand total of 12 points. The evening saw everything from the No. 15 seed (Hendricken) sending the two seed (La Salle) packing to the No. 16 seed (West Warwick) give the tourney’s overall seed (Classical) a serious run for its money.
Now we turn our attention to Thursday’s action, which heavily laden with Blackstone Valley flavor. Three area teams who aren’t exactly located right around the corner from Bristol head to Roger Williams University to see if they can accomplish the following objective: survive and advance. That’s all that truly matters this time of year.
The first game tips off at 6 o’clock and features No. 5 seed and Division III champ North Smithfield facing 12th seeded Shea. Immediately following that game will see No. 4 seed and Division II victor Cumberland cross paths with No. 13 Prout.
Looking at North Smithfield-Shea, the key figures to be how the Raiders combat the Northmen’s low-post players in seniors Peter Keenan and Matt Walkow. Keenan and Walkow possess some of the same traits as Cumberland duo Dylan Boisclair and Greg Joubert, though its important for Shea to not lose sight of Walkow when he steps behind the 3-point line.
One thing about this year’s Shea squad that’s been impressive is that they’ve been winning minus a tried-and-true point guard. Instead, head coach Matt Pita asks all of his players to chip in with the ball-handling duties, something that figures to come in handy Thursday when North Smithfield revs up the full-court pressure and guards Dan Jordan and Walker Strick are attempting to rattle Shea’s cages.
Cumberland and Prout met back on Jan. 7 at the Wellness Center with the Clippers going on to stage a 62-54 win. Head coach Gary Reedy remembers Cumberland being up in the neighborhood of 18-20 points that night, but he shook his head when he looked down at the scorebook and saw the Clippers went an abysmal 13-for-30 at the foul line.
A few Crusaders to keep an eye on – senior big man Justin Bristol, who netted 18 points against the Clippers, and senior guard Eric Rameika, who is Prout’s answer to Cumberland’s Ben Bradley – an outside threat who can also put the ball on the floor.
“They play tough defense,” noted Reedy about another area of concern regarding Prout.
Cumberland, North Smithfield, Shea and Prout makeup the Region IV component of the open state hoops fest. Region III is also in action Thursday night with CCRI-Warwick featuring No. 6 Mount Pleasant and No. 11 Barrington at 6:30 followed by No. 3 North Kingstown and No. 14 Cranston West at 8:15.
We now know the times for Sunday’s quarterfinal-round quadruple header at Providence College’s Alumni Hall. Thursday’s winners at CCRI-Warwick will kick things off at 11:30 a.m. followed by Hendricken-Hope at 1:30 p.m. Play resumes at 6:30 p.m. with Classical taking on Westerly with the winners of North Smithfield-Shea and Cumberland-Prout closing things out with an 8:30 p.m. contest.
Here are the links for the preview articles for Cumberland, Shea and North Smithfield …
At Cumberland, how a group of football players brought a championship-caliber aura from the gridiron to the hardwood: http://pawtuckettimes.com/content/cumberland-football-players-key-basket... 
Shea’s Henry Coleman is not your typical assistant coach: http://pawtuckettimes.com/content/sheas-coleman-leaves-no-stone-unturned... 
North Smithfield hopes to make a splash on the big stage: http://www.woonsocketcall.com/node/7567