OLD WESTBURY — In basketball, a few seconds can seem like an eternity. It was 4.2 seconds that made all the difference for the Mattituck Tuckers.
Just think of what happened in the final 4.2 seconds of the Southeast Region Class B semifinal/Long Island boys basketball final on Wednesday night. The Tuckers, who had trailed the Malverne Mules for virtually the entire game, were on the ropes. Their hearts must have sunk when senior guard Steve Ascher missed a pressure-packed free throw that would have tied the score. But then, just seconds later, those same hearts must have been lifted to new heights when Ascher made a tip-in at the buzzer, giving the Tuckers a dramatic 68-67 triumph.
Mattituck fans screamed. The exultant Tuckers, and their coach, dove on top of each other, forming a dogpile on the court at SUNY/Old Westbury’s Clark Athletic Center. Malverne’s players looked stunned, seeing their string of four straight Long Island titles snapped. The loss ended Malverne’s 14-game win streak, which followed on the heels of its only other loss of the season, to the Elmont Spartans, the Nassau County Class AA champions.
The Tuckers, meanwhile, were on top of Long Island.
Tom Ascher, Steve’s twin, said he tackled his brother after the game-winning shot.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” said Tom Ascher, who sounded as if he was losing his voice. “And then I couldn’t breathe down there, so I started throwing people off. I was right on top of him, and then everyone was on top of us. It was unreal.”
Steve Ascher went to the foul line with 4.2 seconds left and Malverne fans screaming at the top of their lungs. He coolly sank the first free throw to trim Malverne’s lead to 67-66. Then, after a Malverne timeout, Steve Ascher’s second free throw bounced off the back rim. Mattituck’s Cody Huntley came down with the rebound, turned and put up a shot that ricocheted off the backboard and rim. Steve Ascher was in place, though, to direct a high-arcing tip that glanced off the glass and fell through the net as time expired.
“I went up and I just tipped it,” said Steve Ascher, who finished with 22 points and seven assists, both game-high figures. “I just didn’t know if it was going in or not. It went in and I jumped on the ground.”
Although the three game officials briefly conferred to make certain that the tip came before the final buzzer, it was clear that it had.
Moments after the game, while celebrating Mattituck fans chanted, “Matt-i-tuck! Matt-i-tuck! Matt-i-tuck!” Tuckers forward Yianni Rauseo was still trying to comprehend what had just happened. “It’s like a fairy-tale ending,” he said. “It’s amazing. I still can’t believe it. It’s like a dream.”
The dream season continues for Mattituck (16-6). As a result of their second Long Island title (their first was in 1979, the same year they lost in a state final), the Tuckers earned a place in the regional final against the John S. Burke Catholic Eagles (19-2)on Saturday night at Farmingdale State University.
The Tuckers trailed by as many as 15 points late in the third quarter and were down by 12 entering the fourth, yet they were determined not to let their season come to an end.
Mattituck turned to a press that caused Malverne (18-2) a good deal of trouble in the fourth quarter and was a big reason why the Tuckers finished the game on a 16-3 run.
The Tuckers received a standing ovation from fans after Tom Ascher stole an inbounds pass and raced down the court for a layup, cutting Malverne’s lead to 64-58. Shortly after, Mike Mangiamele completed a spinning move that capped a 9-0 Mattituck spurt, making it a three-point game at 64-61.
“We were resilient,” Mattituck Coach Paul Ellwood said. “We just hung in there and we found a way.”
Malverne played with one of its regular starters, Ronald Spencer, sitting on the bench because of academic reasons. Another starter, Anthony Moultrie, fouled out with 2:39 left. The Tuckers surely shed no tears seeing Moultrie exit after he had accumulated 10 points, 16 rebounds, five assists, four steals and three blocks.
Tom Ascher supplied 17 points, Rauseo 12 and Mangiamele 11. Huntley and Rauseo grabbed nine rebounds each.
Cory Alexander led Malverne with 18 points, 13 of them coming in the first half. Alton Kelly and Timothy Prewitt added 10 apiece for the Mules.
Mattituck held only two leads in the game: at 2-0 when Rauseo made a layup off the opening tip-off, and at 68-67, the final score.
“Come on, how can you not be amazed tonight?” Ellwood said. “If Duke would have done that that would have been amazing. What a storybook season.”
With a mix of big bodies and a lightning-fast transition game, the Mules are a tough bunch. Yet, Mattituck managed to stay in the game despite a 3-for-11 shooting spell in the second quarter.
“Champions never quit, and they’re Suffolk County champions,” Malverne Coach Darrol Lopez said. “That’s what a great team is supposed to do. They’re not supposed to give up. It was a great win for them.”
And so Mattituck’s season continues, at least for another three days.
Steve Ascher said, “We still don’t want it to end.”