It was a game that said a lot about both teams. As far as the Greenport Porters were concerned, it was further testament to just how good the Porters are, backing up their No. 1 ranking among Class C boys basketball teams in the New York State Sports Writers Association poll. But it was what it said about the losing team, the Southold First Settlers, that may be more of an eye-opener.
An early-season Suffolk County League VIII contest that had the intensity, quality and feel of a playoff game, showed something to be true: If this started out as a rebuilding season for Southold, that phase may be over; it may now be only a matter of fine-tuning.
Although the Porters walked out of the Southold High School gym with a hard-earned 61-54 victory on Tuesday night, the First Settlers could feel good about what they did.
“This proves that we can compete with anybody in the state, considering that they’re number one,” said Southold junior guard Winston Wilcenski, who turned in a 32-point performance with the aid of seven three-point shots. “We can compete with anybody in this league. We just have to keep working hard, night in and night out.”
It also speaks well of the Porters (5-0, 2-0) that they were able to bounce back from an 11-point deficit and overcome Wilcenski’s hot hand. Greenport took the lead for good with the aid of a 17-2 run in the third quarter. Eight of those points came from Jalen Shelby, whose three-point shot capped that spurt and made the score 45-41.
Southold (3-3, 1-1) had pulled to within three points of Greenport when a layup by Sal Manno made it 57-54, but baskets by Tremayne Hansen and Shelby down the stretch sealed the result for the Porters.
“This was a great game,” said Dantré Langhorne, who put up 20 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists, four steals and one block for the Porters. Referring to the First Settlers, he said: “They came out hungry, and I guess they want the spot that we’re in right now. Everyone wants the spot that we’re in right now.”
Shelby finished with 13 points. Hansen was responsible for 11 points and 10 rebounds.
Wilcenski, who scored a career-high 39 points last month against the Westhampton Beach Hurricanes, knocked down the first three shots he took, all three-pointers. His first 10 points helped Southold out to a 12-1 lead 3 minutes 12 seconds into the game. Wilcenski had 22 points by halftime.
Wilcenski said that during the school day people told him to have a good game, and he sensed during pregame warmups that his shooting touch was on. It sure was.
“I always felt like I perform better in bigger games,” Wilcenski said. “I had a lot on my shoulders. … I knew I had to have a great game.”
Southold also received 11 points from Manno, who turned in a fine game as did Kyle Clausen, who had eight points. Both guards finished with six assists each.
Southold Coach Jeff Ellis said his team played a near-perfect game. The only thing is, it apparently needed to be even closer to perfection. “We nearly did that,” he said.
The First Settlers nailed 52.6 percent of their field-goal attempts, including 8 of 16 from three-point range. They led by five points after one quarter and by seven after two. But the Porters recovered, shooting a sizzling 9 of 11 from the field in the third quarter.
Southold may be the defending league champion, but the First Settlers have only three players back from last season’s team. That doesn’t change Ellis’ mindset, though, entering games.
“I always think my team’s got a chance,” he said. “I go into every game expecting to win. I mean, I know they’re Greenport, I know they’re good, I know they have some good players, but I expect to go into every game, and I expect to win. That’s just my mentality.”
Meanwhile, a lesson may have been reinforced to the Porters. Their top ranking in the state poll, notwithstanding, wins are going to have to be earned.
“You got to come ready to play,” Greenport Coach Al Edwards said. “You can’t feel like you’re the cream of the crop until you prove that. You got to play hard every night.”
Wilcenski said the only people in the gym who thought the First Settlers had a chance in the game were the ones wearing Southold uniforms.
“I know Greenport came into this gym expecting to blow us out,” he said. “They’re number one in the state. Everyone in the stands expected a blowout. Nobody expected this.”