Mike Mangiamele doesn’t start games and he isn’t a big scorer, but what he does for the Mattituck Tuckers may be even more important. He changes games.
When Mangiamele, the team’s sixth man, is on the basketball court, Mattituck is a different team. Coach Paul Ellwood has noticed it, too.
“He scores only six points a game, but he gets us so many more points because he forces so many turnovers and gets the other team out of rhythm,” Ellwood said. “He really changes the game when he’s in there.”
Mangiamele did it again on Saturday after the Tuckers fell into a bit of a funk and found themselves trailing by 9-2 early in their Suffolk County League VII game against the Babylon Panthers. After the senior guard was inserted into the game, things changed. Ellwood said, “He hit some jump shots and now all of a sudden I’m looking at the scoreboard saying, ‘How did we get the lead?’ ”
Thanks in part to the energy Mangiamele provided off the bench, the Tuckers held off Babylon, 54-49, at Mattituck High School for their seventh win in eight games this season. The result brought their league record to 3-0. Babylon fell to 1-7, 1-1 in the league.
“When he comes in, our defense just gets a whole lot better and we score a lot of points and we force the traps and turnovers,” said Mattituck forward Yianni Rauseo.
A healthy dose of balanced scoring also came in handy for the Tuckers. Steve Ascher delivered 14 points, Connor Davis had 11 and Tom Ascher and Mangiamele chipped in 10 apiece, a career-high total for Mangiamele.
Then again, Mangiamele isn’t about points or the status of being a starter. No, he is driven by something else entirely.
“It’s just to win the game,” he said. “That’s all I care about. I don’t care how much I score or how bad I did. I just want to win.”
Ellwood said he feels comfortable starting Mangiamele, but it’s not an easy decision with the guard-rich team that the Tuckers have. “If I put him in, then I have to take out Connor, who I think is one of the best point guards in the league,” Ellwood said. “And then if I take out one of the other two guys [twin brothers Steve and Tom Ascher], I’m taking out the two highest scorers. And then if I take out one of the bigs, then we’re going with four guards.”
It’s a nice problem to have.
Asked to characterize his playing style, Mangiamele said he plays like “an animal.” He said: “I’m there for the dirty work, I guess. I mean, usually people get nervous before games. I’m not nervous at all before a basketball game because if my shot’s not falling, I hustle, I go to the floor for balls and rebound. That’s what I’m there for.”
Ellwood said Mangiamele has one of the best attitudes of any player he has ever coached. “He knows he doesn’t have to carry the load offensively,” the coach said. “When there’s no expectations for scoring, everything else comes easier, and then when he does score, it’s a bonus.”
Mattituck’s Cody Huntley and Rauseo had their work cut out for them, dealing with Babylon’s big bodies, Max Watt and Adrian Sullivan, who are both 6-foot-4. Rauseo hit the boards hard and came down with 12 rebounds to go with six points. Huntley grabbed eight rebounds.
Babylon, a team that plays much better than its record might indicate, also had speed and athleticism in the form of Nahari Jenkins (20 points, 11 rebounds) and Kyle Dawson (13 points, five assists). It might have caught the Tuckers a little by surprise.
“We just thought we were going to stomp all over them,” said Rauseo.
But Mattituck pressed, stole the ball 17 times and forced 23 turnovers from Babylon. It made a difference.
A layup by Tom Ascher gave Mattituck the lead for good at 35-33 in the third quarter. Six times after that, the Tuckers stretched their lead to seven points, the final margin.
“They’ve gotten even better than last year,” Dawson said. “They have a lot of good players.”
Babylon Coach Chris Morra said Mattituck’s experience was a factor. “Excellent, a great team, well-coached,” he said. “I know they’ve been playing together for a while.”
Ellwood said his team didn’t play its best and was a half-step slower than usual. “The fact that [Babylon] handled all of our presses and we didn’t shoot the ball well and we still won,” he said, “that speaks just volumes about us to know that we can have [an imperfect] night and we can win. It’s a little bit of a luxury that we haven’t had in a while.”
Sort of like having Mangiamele coming in off the bench.