There are few players Center Moriches boys basketball coach John Ward-Adams respects enough to switch his defense to a box-and-one, where four players sit in a zone and one player sticks man-to-man against the opponents top scorer.
Before the first quarter even ended in Wednesday night’s League VII matchup against Mattituck, Ward-Adams had seen enough. Mattituck senior Tom Ascher sank three jumpers and added another point from the free-throw line, giving him seven in the first 5 1/2 minutes, a game after he scored 34 against Southampton.
“He’s capable of scoring 30 points and taking teams out by himself,” Ward-Adams said. “Can’t let it happen. If someone else beats us, we’ll live with that. I don’t really give kids a lot of respect, but when I do it, he’s got the respect.”
Center Moriches played the rest of the game in a box-and-one, effectively taking Ascher out of the game. He didn’t score again, fouled out midway through the fourth quarter, and the Red Devils rolled to a 63-44 victory to earn a share of the League VII championship.
The Tuckers, thanks to the Red Devils’ loss Friday to Wyandanch, had already secured at least a share of the league title coming into the game. They hoped to have it for themselves, but could still appreciate the accomplishment of the first league title for Mattituck in 22 years.
“It’s tough right now,” said Mattituck coach Paul Ellwood. “Right now they don’t feel like they won league championship because they wanted to have it themselves. They wanted the one seed, but it doesn’t really matter because you get a home game and the second game’s on neutral court.”
A box-and-one defense isn’t anything the Tuckers (9-3 League VII) haven’t seen before this season. Usually, Ellwood said, they can counter it and force the opponent to switch back.
But the Tuckers were minus one of their key shooters, senior Connor Davis, who hyper-extended his knee in practice a day earlier. Davis did not play and Ellwood said he expects him to be back for the playoffs. Davis was still to be evaluated to determine if any serious damage occurred.
“That was a good defense to run against us tonight,” Ellwood said of the box-and-one. “We had one other shooter but they got out to him. Maybe one more shooter could have made a couple shots and they have to get out of that.”
The Tuckers led by one at halftime, but the Red Devils came out scorching in the third quarter. Center Moriches connected on its first five shots and 8-of-11. The Red Devils outscored the Tuckers 23-9 in the quarter and they could never recover.
“We’ve been having big third quarters all season when we win,” Ward-Adams said. “We count on that because we’re conditioned. And the kids wanted this game.”
The Red Devils were able to get out in transition for fastbreak points. Mattituck, meanwhile, struggled shooting. The Tuckers finished the game shooting 30 percent from the field and were 4-of-20 from beyond the arc.
George Williams led all scorers with 24 points for Center Moriches. Elijah Gonzalez added 17.
Tom Sledjeski led the Tuckers with 10 points. Steve Ascher added nine, all on three-pointers.
Mattiuck finished the regular season 13-5 overall while Center Moriches closed out 11-7. Mattituck lost both games against Center Moriches, including a 66-47 defeat Jan. 20.
The teams could wind up meeting again. The playoffs begin Tuesday. Ellwood said he’d find out Thursday which team they will play in the first round.