WARWICK, R.I. –- Granted, defending CIAC Class L champion New London High is led by All-World point guard Kris Dunn.
But the fact the Whalers play tenacious defense is just as important to their success.
Just ask defending Rhode Island Division I champion St. Raphael Academy.
New London held the Saints to 39.6 percent (19-for-48) shooting and broke open a relatively close game in the second half en route to a 66-55 victory Saturday night before an SRO crowd at the CCRI Knight Campus Fieldhouse.
“I thought we played good, solid, man-to-man defense tonight,” Whalers coach Craig Parker said. “I thought we did a good job on their point guard (Charles Correa) for the most part. Our defense was stellar tonight.”
One sequence underscored Parker’s analysis.
New London (7-2) began the second half leading 36-30.
After the first three minutes, the Whalers had hit on only one of 11 shots – yet they still maintained a six-point lead (40-34) because the Saints (9-1) missed six of their first seven shots.
Dunn had a typical game (by his standards) as he torched the Saints for 32 points, including 88.9 percent (16-for-18) shooting at the free throw line.
Keith Porter added 15 points while Doug Hinton chipped in with 11.
Conversely, SRA didn’t receive the type of performance it’s accustomed to seeing from Dunn’s counterpart, Correa, who was the MVP of last year’s state championship game.
Correa scored 15 points and didn’t notch his first two until almost 11 minutes had elapsed in the first half. And even more significant was the fact he “batted” .000 (0-for-6) from the line.
“We played him last year in New London and we knew he was real quick off the dribble and he would shoot from anywhere,” Parker said. “My assistant scouted him last week against Cranston East (Correa scored 28 points in a 78-67 win over the Thunderbolt) so we had an idea.”
Wrong focus: While Dunn without question had an idea of what he was going to do in this highlight inter-state game, the same couldn’t be said of Correa.
For the majority of the first half, he forced shots – some from beyond what would have been the NBA’s 3-point arc. And perhaps the play that typified his performance came with 10:08 left in the game and New London leading 43-34.
Correa stole the ball and raced down the court for what should have been an unmolested layup – only to miss the shot.
“It was a big challenge … it was Dunn and him,” SRA coach Tom Sorrentine said. “I think he took it personal and it kind of got into his head a little bit. He ended up taking some bad shots. He made bad choices at certain times.
“We needed to set things up. It wasn’t only him (the only other Saint to reach double figures was Cesar Mejia with 19 points). But if he has a good game, we’re right there. It just wasn’t a good night for him. He’s usually money, but not tonight.”
Money in the bank: Dunn was more than money.
If anything, he was all the gold in Fort Knox.
“The thing is we couldn’t stop Dunn,” Sorrentine said. “We tried everything. We tried to play him full-court man and then pick him up and double him. That wasn’t working because he was getting to the hoop.
“Then, we tried to zone the whole thing. We put our big guys at the top to try and drive him out of there and he still got to the hoop. He’s so long. He’s like (former Providence College star and current New Jersey Net) Marshon Brooks.”
Setting the tone: New London led 12-11 roughly midway through the first half when it hit SRA with a 12-2 run – Dunn scoring seven of those points. He even tipped in a missed shot at the buzzer for that 36-30 lead which ended a half during which SRA shot a modest 42.9 percent (9-for-21).
“We always emphasize defense at New London,” Parker said. “We have some good, quick athletic kids. That’s our thing, to be honest with you.
“And to be honest with you, we haven’t been a real good defensive team this year. This was our best defensive effort. It’s tough to get kids to play defense because they come alive on the offensive end. But, again, it was our best defensive effort of the year so far.”