Top-seeded Skippers advance to third round of state championship
Going into the state tournament as the No. 1 overall seed, North Kingstown started the battle for the boys’ basketball crown on Tuesday night with a 62-54 win over Cumberland. They will now face-off against Rogers at Providence College’s Alumni Hall on Sunday, March 4.
For the first time in school history North Kingstown went into the tournament as the top seed. According to Jamestown’s Owen Heath, the whole team is focused on the same goal – winning the championship. “There’s no selfishness on the team,” he said.
This year, only one high school can claim the state title. Last year, all three divisions competed in separate tournaments – now there’s just one event.
As the top seed, North Kingstown received a bye in the first round. Last week the team used practices to scrimmage so they would not lose the competitive edge.
After No. 17 Cumberland dismantled
No. 16 Toll Gate in the first round, 62-47, its road became instantly tougher when they drew the Skippers, who lost just two league games all season. Cumberland, who was the Division II North champions, were simply outmatched. Although the Skippers went into the second half down by 10, they outclassed the Clippers in the second half, outscoring them by 22 points in the period. Evan Scott led the way for NKHS with 27 points..
The Skippers finished the regular season with a 16-2 record. They lost a game early in the season to Coventry on Dec. 23. “The Coventry game was a bad game,” said Owen. Their only other loss came against Central, 84-76, on Jan. 20. “We let the Central game slip away.”
Since then they’ve racked up 10 straight wins. Owen, who said he’s excited about the tournament, has been playing his best basketball since the end of January, according to coach Aaron Thomas.
The 6-foot-4 junior plays both low post and forward positions. “The thing that’s confusing about Owen – and it’s a good thing – he can go inside or outside,” said Thomas.
With his playmaking and shooting skills, he’s been able to confuse opponents who, for example, don’t expect a big man to launch a 3-pointer. According to his coach, Owen has been coming off the North Kingstown bench and scoring some big baskets. He poured in 11 points, including a 3-pointer, in the Feb. 14 game against Bishop Hendricken.
“They didn’t expect me to shoot that,” Owen said. Most of his other points came off offensive rebounds. That victory secured the Division I South title for the Skippers, and Thomas gave Owen a lot of credit for the win.
Owen said he’s pretty happy about his first year on the varsity.
“I had a couple of bad games at the beginning of the year, but other than that, everything went pretty good for me,” he said. “Our team was close this year. We had good chemistry, so everyone supported each other.”
Owen had seen some action in varsity games last year, as a swing player from the junior varsity squad, but typically he only played a few minutes at the end of the game. He wasn’t surprised about the different level of competition on the varsity, he said.
He has played AAU ball with most of the North Kingstown players since middle school and he knew their abilities. But there was a period of adjustment, he said.
“I didn’t have any really good games until later in the year,” Owen said. “I’ve gotten used to playing with everybody on my team and used to the competition we are playing. You just have to learn how to play with the bigger competition.”
Owen said that the biggest difference is playing against bigger guys. “Some of the opponents weigh 250 pounds and they’re 6-foot-6 and 6-foot-7,” he said.
Owen is working on conditioning to build his strength, which he calls the weakest part of his game. But since January, Owen has been playing about half of every game, and averaging 12 to 14 minutes on the court.
“Owen’s really picked up his game,” Thomas said. “He’s part of that first rotation.” The coach added that the team doesn’t have one sixth man, but rotates three substitutes in and out, depending on the game situation. If the center or post player, for example, is in foul trouble or needs a rest, Owen will go into the game. The team also has a backup point guard and a backup 3-point shooter. In a given situation, either one of them could see action as the sixth man.
Owen moved up in the rotation after another big man, Alex Young, broke his ankle. Young, who is a North Kingstown resident, may return over the next couple of weeks but he’s not expected to be recovered sufficiently to be a factor, Thomas said.
Thomas added that Jamestown has another basketball star in the making with sophomore Grant Gillis. Thomas said he’s 6-foot-5 and still growing. He expects Gillis, who’s a JV player this year, to make the varsity.
“We have a pretty tall team,” Owen said. Evan and Michael Scott, who are twins, are two of the starting five. They’re both 6-foot-5, but Evan plays center and Michael plays guard.
The Scott brothers, who are both seniors, have been named to the Rhode Island Basketball Coaches Association First Team. Junior guard Matt Quainoo made the coaches’ Second Team. Two guards, Chris Hess, a junior, and Lucas Nunez, a senior, round out the starting lineup.
The Skippers have been ranked No. 1 in Rhode Island since Feb. 1. Of course, they’re not overlooking last year’s defending champions, St. Raphael Academy, Owen said. The Saints may still be the team standing in the Skippers’ way. St. Raphael was undefeated up until Feb. 3 when the Skippers squeaked past them 50-48 and ruined their perfect season.
Asked why this year’s team did so well, Owen suggested they stayed hungry.
“We were just consistent this year,” he said. “We never let up against any team. We just were never content. We were never satisfi ed. We still want more. We all want to win the state championship.”