Babylon has reached six straight Suffolk County boys basketball finals for a good reason. The Panthers are tough to beat. Year in, year out, coach Chris Morra puts a good product on the court.
Given that understanding, Mattituck had to feel good about the effort it turned in Friday night at Babylon High School. The result? Not so much.
Mattituck battled Babylon from start to finish and led for much of the way before falling short at the end of the Suffolk County League VII game, 56-52.
Babylon (10-2, 1-1) closed the game on an 8-2 run. A baseline move by Babylon’s Joseph Rende tied the score at 52-52 about midway through the fourth quarter. Gregory Forstner’s layup then put Babylon ahead, 54-52. The score remained 54-52 for over four minutes.
After Forstner blocked a Bryce Grathwohl shot, Mattituck fouled Raymond Whittaker, sending him to the foul line with 16 seconds left. Whittaker sank both free throws to ice it.
Babylon struggled with its shooting, going 33.3 percent (22-for-66) from the field, but made up for it with its defense. The Panthers forced Mattituck (9-3, 1-1) into 28 turnovers, too many for coach Paul Ellwood’s liking and 11 more than Babylon.
Rende led Babylon with 15 points, Aidan LaRock added 12 and Forstner had 10 to go with nine rebounds.
Mattituck’s Xavier Allen struck for a game-high 21 points. Teammate H’Nadahri Joyner turned in a courageous effort, battling Babylon’s big men in the paint and producing 10 points, 13 rebounds, six blocks, two assists and two steals. Isaiah Johnson registered 10 points and six assists while Trevor Poole chipped in nine points and 10 rebounds.
Mattituck came out charged up, scoring the game’s first seven points. The Tuckers never trailed in the first half, leading by as many as 10 points when an Allen three-pointer made it 27-17.
But Babylon’s relentless pressure defense helped the Panthers bite into that deficit. Forstner converted a basket off an offensive rebound to put Babylon ahead for the first time, 41-40, with 1:36 remaining in the third quarter. It was part of a 15-2 run (seven of those points coming from LaRock) that Babylon used to close out the quarter for a 46-42 edge.
Mattituck twice retook the lead in the fourth quarter on a pair of Allen layups before stubborn Babylon answered back with a strong finish.
Photo caption: Mattituck’s H’Nadahri Joyner (23) is greeted by teammates and coaches during the pregame introduction in Babylon. (Credit: Bob Liepa)