It was the moment when the Mattituck Tuckers boys basketball team served noticed that it is for real.
Sure, the Tuckers have racked up four straight impressive non-league wins, including stunning the Riverhead Blue Waves on their home court. But opening the Suffolk County League VII season on Friday night in Mattituck against the Wyandanch Warriors, the defending Suffolk County Class B champions, was yet another test for the resurgent Tuckers.
Mattituck, sparked by the scoring of twins Tom Ascher (29 points) and Steve Ascher (18 points), built up a 15-point lead late in the third quarter. But the Tuckers were a little sloppy with the ball in the closing seconds of the quarter and the Warriors pulled to within 13 points.
“We had been in control and getting good sets and good looks at the basket,” Mattituck Coach Paul Ellwood said. “In the past, we would’ve been lucky to hold on for the win.”
But there is something different about this season’s Mattituck team.
Mike Mangiamele, who had been a defensive catalyst all game long for the Tuckers, hit a driving shot to open the fourth quarter. Tom Ascher followed with a pair of three-pointers. Steve Ascher sank a pair of layups. The Tuckers’ lead ballooned to 24 points midway through the final quarter. Mattituck went on to win, 83-62.
“Wyandanch is a real fast team,” Ellwood said. “It is hard to match up with them. But our scoring was balanced and spread out. We switched our defense to slow them down, and once we did, we settled down. Our defense opened up the floodgates for us.”
Ellwood said Mangiamele, a defensive stopper, “forced turnovers and changed the game.”
The Tuckers had a 24-20 lead after one quarter and, with Mattituck point guard Connor Davis continually breaking the Warriors’ press in the second quarter, Mattituck built a 40-31 lead at the half.
Wyandanch, led by the hot shooting of D’dante Freeman (25 points), made a small run at trimming Mattituck’s lead late in the third quarter. But the Tuckers’ balance on offense was just too much for the Warriors, who took their fifth loss in six games, to stop. In addition to the one-two punch of the Ascher brothers, Davis (10 points, eight assists), Yianni Rauseo (10 points, 11 rebounds), Mangiamele (seven points) and Cody Huntley (six points) all made solid contributions on both ends of the court.
“Tom [Ascher] is a good all-around player who finds a way to score,” Ellwood said. “Steve is a good long-range shooter and he is now starting to go to the basket. He finishes well.”
Ellwood called Davis the best point guard in the league. “Connor can drive and kick out, and he can finish,” the coach said. “He has good judgment. Connor makes our offense go.”
Mangiamele, with his defensive tenacity, is a valuable weapon to bring in off the bench. “It is hard to take him off the floor,” said Ellwood.
Mattituck can press and trap on defense because Huntley, the goalie on the school’s boys soccer team, plays a similar role on defense, altering shots, getting steals and cleaning up the boards.
Ellwood called Rauseo “the fastest, most athletic player on the team. Yianni is in the middle of our press and he is our leading rebounder. He has good anticipation and has a knack for finishing around the rim.”
While Mattituck is unbeaten through five games, Ellwood said, “We haven’t even utilized all of our weapons yet.”
Ellwood said he could feel the tide beginning to turn for his team midway through last season.
“We started last season 1 and 6, then finished strong, splitting our final six games,” he said. “We spotted these kids a long time ago. Some of these kids have been with us for four years. They worked very hard in the spring and summer leagues. They want to be a playoff team. We’re off to a good start.”