CUMBERLAND â€“ The postseason may be afoot, but make no mistake: this is still the same North Smithfield power keg.
The same squad that was blemish-free during the regular season remained true to form in its playoff opener Wednesday night. Led by usual suspects Matt Walkow, Peter Keenan and Cody Lâ€™Heureux, top seed North Smithfield overwhelmed No. 9 Ponaganset, 80-42, in the Division III quarterfinals. Next up for T.J. Ciolfi & Co. is a semifinal-round matchup with No. 4 Johnston Friday at Roger Williams University.
Walkow was easily the best player on the floor, scorching the Chieftains down low and on the perimeter on his way to scoring 16 points. Lâ€™Heureux also finished with 16 points while Keenan (13 points) and Dan Jordan (12 points) also finished in double figures.
For Ponaganset, Scott Peterson led the way with 16 points.
It didnâ€™t take long for North Smithfield (22-0 overall, 19-0 against league opponents) to drop a basketball bomb in the middle of Cumberland Highâ€™s Wellness Center. The Northmen rattled off the contestâ€™s first seven points with the last three belonging to Walkow after the senior buried a triple from the right wing at 14:25.
It only grew worse for Ponaganset. Boasted by a relentless pressing scheme that is rooted in athleticism, North Smithfield repeatedly turned its foe over as the ball approached midcourt. Once the dirty work had been achieved, the focus shifted on scoring in transition, an area that saw the Northmen thrive.
â€śDan and Walker (Strick) are like having three guys out there,â€ť said Ciolfi. â€śWalker sometimes doesnâ€™t get a lot of credit because he doesnâ€™t score, but how many times does he get a deflection that results in a score? I canâ€™t even count.â€ť
A 21-5 lead turned into a 37-13 advantage with 4:54 left before halftime. Still coaching like his team was in the midst of a pressure cooker, Ciolfi applauded his teamâ€™s efforts after forcing Ponaganset into a shot clock violation with 1:27 remaining.
â€śThatâ€™s exactly the way we wanted to start. If we done one thing over the past few games where weâ€™re not comfortable with, we havenâ€™t started explosively,â€ť notes Ciolfi.
The Northmen remained a relentless bunch as the second half progressed, which in turn left those in the stands to ponder when Ciolfi would pull his starting unit. Walkow, Jordan and Keenan came off the floor together at the 8:57 mark while Lâ€™Heureuxâ€™s night ended shortly after canning back-to-back threes with 4:54 remaining.