MARINERS 67, TUCKERS 45
If only a high school boys basketball game was only 16 minutes long.
That might have been what the Mattituck Tuckers were thinking on Tuesday night. But, unfortunately for the Tuckers, one half does not a game make. When the full 32 minutes were played, it was Southampton that was on top in the Suffolk County League VII contest at Mattituck High School.
One might have wondered if an upset was in the making when the Tuckers took a 30-27 lead with them into the locker room at halftime.
“We had flashes of greatness,” said Mattituck center Tom Sledjeski, who called it the best half of the season for the Tuckers.
An upset wasn’t in the cards, though. Southampton picked up its defensive intensity, opened the third quarter with a paralyzing 22-2 run, and ran away to a 67-45 win.
Southampton coach Herm Lamison said there was nothing magical about his team’s turnaround, just a matter of bringing more energy to the court.
Travon Smith, Southampton’s point guard, urged his teammates on at halftime. “I was like, ‘Guys, we got to go out there, we got to get down to business,’ ” he said. “We came out ready [in the third quarter], amped, just got a lot of steals, a lot of easy layups, fast breaks.”
In the decisive third quarter, Southampton shot 9 for 15 from the field; Mattituck went 1 for 4.
And Southampton’s lead grew and grew.
“I don’t think we had the same tenacity as we did in the first half,” Sledjeski said. “We were just a little more sluggish, didn’t play as hard. Things weren’t falling our way, either. We had a couple of passes get tipped and easy layups down the court. Two points turns into four points turns into six points. All of a sudden you have 20 points.”
Southampton (5-1, 2-0) extended its 1-3-1 press in the second half, giving Mattituck’s shorter guards trouble. Twenty-one of Mattituck’s 35 turnovers came in the second half.
“It just got our guys a little rattled and, you know, they got to be able to weather the storm a little better,” said Mattituck coach Paul Ellwood.
As a result of that defensive pressure, the Tuckers (1-5, 0-2) were unable to get the ball to the 6-foot-5 Sledjeski as much as they would have liked in the second half. The senior saw limited touches in the last two quarters. By the time he exited the game with 3 minutes 17 seconds remaining, he had 18 points. Sixteen of them came in the first half.
Sledjeski also grabbed 10 rebounds, blocked two shots and had a steal. Eugene Allen also supplied a double-double for the Tuckers with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Shaundell Fishburne led Southampton with 17 points and 6 assists, Smith chipped in 16 points and Michael Gilliam added 12.
Mattituck recently endured a blow when it lost one of its promising starters, 6-3 junior transfer K. J. Pertillar, who moved back to Riverhead.
Meanwhile, Ellwood said the team’s point guard situation appears to have settled with Tyler Connell running the offense. But most encouraging of all must be the play of Sledjeski. Although one couldn’t tell by his activity on the court, Sledjeski is still recovering from an ankle injury. He said his right ankle remains swollen but doesn’t hurt as much, and is about 75 to 80 percent back to where it should be.
Regardless, it doesn’t seem to have hampered his game. Sledjeski played with vigor against Southampton. He registered a career-high 20 points in each of his previous two games and had a dunk in one of them.
“I’m still getting better, which is pretty cool,” he said.
Ellwood said the Tuckers can expect to see the sort of intense defense they faced against the Mariners when the teams meet again on Jan. 31 in Southampton. They can take that understanding as well as a lesson from Tuesday’s game.
“A half is just not enough,” Ellwood said. “You know teams are going to make adjustments, and you got to be ready.”