The Cranston East boys basketball team continued to roll last week in the Open State Tournament, topping East Greenwich 68-58 in the opening round then later outdueling Mt. Pleasant 59-57 in the quarterfinals to advance to this weekend’s semifinals at URI.
Nelvin Blanco led the way against East Greenwich with 22 points scored while Andrew Khvang added 15 and Aireus Raspberry 11.
Despite falling behind early and trailing at the halftime break to Mt. Pleasant, the Thunderbolts offense would begin clicking in the second half to pull away with the win. Blanco led the way with 21 points while Raspberry chipped in 17 and Khvang 11.
East also topped Mt. Pleasant in the regular season, however, it would require two overtimes for the Bolts to walk away with the win. East coach Isaiah McDaniel felt that similar philosophies led to the tight rivalry.
“We are two teams that do things very similar, we definitely like to concentrate on the defensive side, put pressure on teams with the ball and keep the score in the 50’s. I think we’re similar that way, and I think we’re similar on the offensive end in that we have guys that can shoot the 3 but can also penetrate and get to the basket too. We’re made up of similar players in both aspects of the game,” said McDaniel.
East has been led by its seniors captains Raspberry and Blanco throughout the postseason, and McDaniel feels that they must continue to shine for the Bolts to reach their goal of bringing home a state title.
“I think that it’s huge that they both play well on both sides of the court. They’ve both been captains since their sophomore year, they’ve been leading us for the past three years and I think for them to get to this point, this is something that they’ve been preparing for and are prepared for,” said McDaniel, who also expects another tough matchup against the high-flying North Kingstown Skippers in Saturday’s Final Four contest. “We beat them in the regular season, they beat us in the playoffs. I think in the final six minutes (of the last matchup), we were right in it down the stretch but they just hit more shots than we did. We look to limit their second chance points, they definitely hurt us on the glass, but our goal is go in there confident because we know that we can play with them. It’s going to come down to who has the better possessions.”
Playing on the big stage is nothing new for East, and that experience should pay dividends, according to McDaniel.
“Experience is going to be huge. We’ve played games this year where the winning possessions come at the end, but this time of year I really think that it comes down to defense on both ends of the court. Whoever turns the ball over the least is probably going to come out on the wining end,” said McDaniel, who has also enjoyed seeing the community come together to support the program. “This is huge for the program, we are always trying to keep the community involved, trying to keep the student body involved, we’ve had a lot of the faculty come to the games so it is great to see them get to see the kids in their element as student-athletes. It’s definitely something that our seniors have been looking forward to, they’ve been playing together since elementary school and have been working hard in practice … they’re ready.”