Clippers spoil Panthers' Senior Night with comeback win

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The Johnston boys’ basketball team was looking for a big upset against Cumberland, one of the top teams in Division II this season, but it was the Clippers who would end up spoiling Johnston's senior night with a second-half come-from-behind, 70-60, victory Tuesday night at Johnston High School.

The Panther senior players, cheerleaders and majorettes were honored in a pre-game ceremony with their family and friends by their sides. The senior players are Cody Chalifoux, Michael Pilkington, Nicholas Mollicone, Robert Russo, Jaxson Tavares, Noah Jean-Laurent, Michael Sabitoni, Kyle Nelson, Nassir Vasquez and Ryan Yankee.

The senior cheerleaders are Nina Carnevale, Isabel Connors, Paige Grenkiewicz, Veronica Lamoureux-Sloane, Kristen Ruscito, co-captain Kristen Falso, co-captain Gabriella Spina and co-captain Alexia Cabral. The senior majorettes are Nathan Souvannavong, Beatrice Thompson, Isabella Batista and captain Sarah Banno.

Both Johnston and Cumberland have already qualified for the playoffs, but they were looking to improve their seeding in the upcoming Division II tournament. The Panthers fall to 7-8, while the Clippers improve to 13-2 with three games left in the regular season.

The Panthers welcomed back their starting point guard, Mollicone, who went out with an injury early last month.

“Playing Nick with his ankle was tough,” said Johnston head coach Ed Bedrosian. “We limited his minutes tonight. Once he gets healthier and get back Bobby Russo, I think we will be all right for the playoffs.”

Johnston would shoot well in the first half with 15 points coming from Yankee on three 3-point shots. He would be the game’s high-scorer with 25 points.

Yankee's 3-point play gave JHS a 29-25 lead with less than 30 seconds remaining in the first half, but CHS cut the lead to 1 on Tyler Kolek's 3-pointer with only seconds left on the clock.

JHS came out strong in the beginning of the second half, as Vasquez buried three 3-pointers of his own to give his team a 43-36 lead. With Johnston leading, 48-46, midway through the second half, the Clippers’ 6-foot-4 center Jackson Zancan would tie the game with a fast break dunk, which turned the momentum in the Clippers’ favor.

Zhamaine Henderson sunk a 3 shortly after and Cumberland would never trail in the game again.

“That dunk was a momentum builder and Henderson got hot, which stretched it out for the Kolek brothers,” said Cumberland head coach Gary Reedy. “Both teams came out flat, we both had not played in a week because of the weather and it showed. It was not a pretty game to watch, but we rotated well on defense in the second. Any time we can win on the road, I'm happy.”

The Clippers only had four players enter the scoring column; Zancan led the way with 21, Tyler Kolek had 17, Brandon Kolek netted 13 and Henderson dropped in 19 points.

The Panthers had only four players score in the game until late in the contest when Jean-Laurent hit a 3 and Andrew Zalisk scored down low. Vasquez poured in 18 points, Sabitoni had nine and Mollicone chipped in with three points in his return to action.

“It's been the same thing the last four or five games,” Bedrosian said. “We have to keep the score in the 50s in order to win. We have been playing good first halves, keeping the game in the 20s. In the second half, I think we get a little fatigued, we are only playing six or seven guys. We let our guard down and did not play good defense in the second half. Cumberland is a good team and has a lot of weapons that are hard to stop. We have to play defense for 32 minutes. We moved the ball around better in the first half, then we started forcing stuff in the second half. We have been in every game, the last five or six minutes of the second half we get a little tired. The effort is always there, but we let them get low for layups and Cumberland shot the lights out in the second half.”

Both teams have a tough road ahead of them in the final two weeks of the regular season. Cumberland plays two top teams in Narragansett, which has only one loss, and undefeated Shea. Johnston will host East Greenwich tonight at 7 p.m., before finishing with road games against Rogers and Chariho.

“We have three tough games left, but we will figure it out with our senior leadership,” Bedrosian said. “We just have to be disciplined for the entire game.”

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