The most eagerly awaited high school boys basketball game on the North Fork this season was well worth the wait. It was an absolute treat.
And when the dust cleared after this non-league showdown at Greenport High School on Saturday, the host Porters had another victory to add to their perfect record, and the Mattituck Tuckers, coming off a couple of stumbling blocks, brought their game back to the level they wanted.
“We knew we could beat them,” Greenport guard Sean Charters said after his side’s 62-59 triumph. “It just came a little closer than we thought it would.”
Three points was the difference. A couple of bounces the other way, and the Tuckers could have easily walked away as the winners, and that’s saying quite a lot about them.
Both teams are quite good, no question about that. The Porters, ranked No. 1 in Class C by the New York State Sportswriters Association, hold a sparkling 11-0 record (7-0 in Suffolk County League VIII) and are looking sharp. The Tuckers, a Class B team, have their strongest squad since at least the 2003-4 season when they won a county championship in Paul Ellwood’s first season as the team’s coach. With Saturday’s loss, the Tuckers dropped to 8-3 (they are 4-2 in League VII).
But what really made this matchup so intriguing is that these teams are successful for different reasons.
Starting with the Tuckers, it’s easy to see what makes them so formidable: great depth. It’s the sort of depth coaches dream about. Ellwood could put his second-string team on the floor, and not have to worry. Mattituck’s bench outscored Greenport’s, 19-3.
“Our role players did great tonight,” Ellwood said. “Tom Sledjeski had the best game of his life.”
And then there is Greenport, a team with a curious makeup. A case could be made that the three best players on the court wore Greenport uniforms. The Porters surely have one of the state’s best players in 6-foot-7 senior Dantré Langhorne, a legitimate star player who is a McDonald’s all-American nominee. He has support in the form of two other fine talents — senior center Tremayne Hansen and junior guard Jalen Shelby.
Ellwood’s game plan was to focus his team’s defensive attention on those three players. It was a logical strategy. If someone was going to beat the Tuckers, it would be someone not named Langhorne, Hansen and Shelby, the threesome that the Porters rely on for so much.
So, imagine Mattituck’s dismay when Sean Charters, a 5-9 junior guard, dropped four three-point shots on the way to a career-high 15-point performance. It made all the difference.
“I felt confident in the beginning,” Charters said. “It was a great feeling.”
Charters canned three threes in the first quarter to help the Porters get off to a good start, and then he knocked down a big one late in the game to give Greenport a 61-57 lead.
“We knew he could shoot,” said Mattituck guard Tom Ascher.
What the Tuckers did, in essence, was take a calculated risk. It really was their best chance, and it almost worked. Ellwood said, “We took a chance on Charters by keying on other guys … and we’ll live with that.”
It goes without saying the Langhorne did his thing. A true all-around player, he played his typical tremendous game. By the game’s end, his statistical line read: 23 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists, three steals and two blocks. Among the baskets he made were a pair of acrobatic layups in which he put his long reach to good use and left spectators to wonder just how he did it. “Legs and arms,” Charters said, describing Langhorne’s length.
“Dantré made some great shots,” Ellwood said. “Obviously, he’s the best player on the floor. He’s the best player that I’ve seen in League VII or VIII. There’s a lot of good players in the county. Dantré’s right up there with all of them.”
It became obvious that the Tuckers had closed the gap with the Porters when the teams played last August in the Town of Brookhaven Summer League small schools final at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue. The Porters prevailed by five points that night.
“We thought we could take them now,” Tom Ascher said. “It just didn’t come down that way.”