Perhaps what is most intriguing about the Mattituck Tuckers is how quickly their mentality changed.
It was around this time last year when the Tuckers had already turned their basketball uniforms in following a 6-12 season. By the time this season started, though, Mattituck’s psyche seemed to have undergone a stunning metamorphosis. Having left behind their losing ways of 2009-10, they played with the confidence that winners have. It’s a form of self-assuredness that’s almost palpable.
They’re behind and time is running short, no problem. They believe they can pull it out.
It’s a close, tight game. No need to worry because they surely aren’t.
“It came quick,” Mattituck Coach Paul Ellwood said. “They got it like that. They went from a downtrodden team to a team with expectations that they’re not going to lose games. It happened fast.”
What happened on Tuesday night was just what the Tuckers expected. They secured a place in their first Suffolk County final since 2004.
Mattituck registered its biggest win in seven years with a 60-55 Class C semifinal triumph over the visiting Wyandanch Warriors. As a result, the second-seeded Tuckers (14-5) will play the No. 1 Center Moriches Red Devils (12-7) for the county title on Friday at Farmingdale State College.
“We played big tonight,” Mattituck senior center Cody Huntley said after his team’s third win over Wyandanch this season. “We were ready to go. … We knew that we were the team to beat tonight. I felt we actually played like that.”
Steve Ascher’s 22 points (15 in the fourth quarter) led Mattituck. It was Ascher who scored Mattituck’s last six points in the final minute. His twin brother, Tom Ascher, struck for 16 points and five assists. Huntley had a tremendous game under the boards, grabbing 11 rebounds to go with seven points, three assists, two blocks and one steal.
“I give them credit,” Wyandanch Coach Kenneth McCloud said. “They did a great job. We like to penetrate and get in the lane, and they packed it in on us. They really slowed us down tonight. Tonight they were the better team. They wanted it.”
No. 3 Wyandanch (8-11) was led by Alex Williams’ 17 points and 10 rebounds. Aziz Cannon added 12 points and six assists while Jared Creekmore and D’dante Freeman both had nine points apiece.
In order to snap Wyandanch’s five-game win streak, Mattituck shot a high percentage from the field, 55.6 percent (20 of 36). “They just knock down shots when they need them,” said McCloud.
The Tuckers started the game shooting a sizzling 7 of 10 and trailed only once, briefly in the first quarter at 8-7 and briefly in the second quarter at 28-26. But these new Tuckers play with determination, focus and, yes, confidence.
“We knew we could win,” said Steve Ascher.
Wyandanch, which was the defending county champion, kept it a close game, though, and never trailed by more than nine points.
“Our guys never gave up,” McCloud said. “Even down to the last minute of this game, they never gave up and they left everything out there on the court. They never gave up and they had the hearts of warriors.”
But the Tuckers fought ferociously to protect their lead throughout the entire second half. After Freeman put in a layup to make it a two-point game at 57-55, Steve Ascher finished off a layup of his own with 20 seconds to go.
Moments later, Williams pulled down an offensive rebound and went up for a shot. Mattituck’s Yianni Rauseo swatted the ball away — and with it Wyandanch’s hopes.
“We came out ready to play,” Huntley said. “We started right from the beginning. That’s what we wanted, and we got it done.”
For Ellwood, it was a long day, filled with anxiety, to be followed, he was sure, by a long night.
“It’s going to take me a while to unwind, probably around 4 a.m.,” he said. “Then my baby will wake up.”
Now the Tuckers must prepare for Center Moriches, the team that has beaten them twice this season. The two teams share the League VII championship and a budding a rivalry.
“I don’t know if people expect us to win against Center, but we do,” said Steve Ascher.
Spoken just like a confident player.