Ascher’s 34 points helps put Tuckers in game for league title

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Connor Davis of Mattituck tried to maintain his balance and his dribble while Southampton's Conor Fitzgerald defended.

Apparently, there wasn’t much to be said in either locker room at halftime. It wasn’t the time for big halftime speeches. The Southampton Mariners knew they just had to play better, and the Mattituck Tuckers, well, they knew that anything remotely close to the first 16 minutes of basketball that they had played would seal the deal.

After the Tuckers completed a tremendous first half in which they scored 53 points and led Southampton — no slouch of a team, mind you — by 30, Mattituck Coach Paul Ellwood believed that nothing needed to be said, other than, “Keep it up, guys.”

So, Ellwood saved his halftime talk for another night, turning to his assistant coach, Kevin Chartrand, and telling him: “I’m not going to say anything to them. What do you say to a team that just played a half like that?”

How about bravo?

The best first half that Ellwood said he has ever seen a Mattituck team play sent the Tuckers on the way to a stunning 84-67 thumping of Southampton on Friday night. Not only did the performance and result thrill the Mattituck High School crowd, but it set the Tuckers up for what could be their biggest regular-season game in at least 22 years.

It will be one game. One final regular-season game for the Suffolk County League VII championship.

The Tuckers could grab their first league title since the 1988-89 season with a home win over the Center Moriches Red Devils on Wednesday night.

“We got one game” left, Ellwood said. “Win and it’s ours. We got a one-game shot, and if you would have told me that at the beginning of the season, win our last game, win a league championship, I would have taken that in a heartbeat. It’s a great opportunity.”

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Mattituck's Tom Ascher, who scored a career-high 34 points, charged past Southampton's Onajja Browning.

Mattituck put itself in that position with its impressive display on Friday night. It was the fifth straight win for the first-place Tuckers (13-4, 9-2), who turned in an extraordinary first half and a season-high point total for the game.

The result, coupled with the Wyandanch Warriors’ 68-64 defeat of defending league champion Center Moriches on Friday, has Mattituck with one less league loss than both Center Moriches (9-7, 7-3) and Southampton (11-5, 7-3).

What would a league title be like? That was a tempting thought for Mattituck senior guard Tom Ascher, whose career-high 34 points highlighted Friday’s game.

“I can’t even imagine,” Ascher said during a postgame interview, with gauze still in his left nostril to plug up a bloody nose he sustained from an elbow he took to the face while scrambling for a ball in the first quarter. “It would be awesome.”

Ascher, who hit three three-point shots and sank 7 of 8 free throws, struck for 21 points in a memorable first half that saw the Tuckers play with explosive energy and a red-hot hand. They shot a sizzling 13 of 16 from the field in the second quarter and were 21 for 30 in the first half.

“That’s insane,” said Ellwood.

They were rewarded with a 53-23 lead at the interval. The 33 points the Tuckers scored in the second quarter were the most the team has posted in a quarter in at least seven years. “It just seemed like the lead kept growing exponentially, and I don’t know when all those points got scored,” said Ellwood.

For good measure, the Tuckers nailed eight of their final nine field-goal attempts to finish the game with a 63.5 shooting percentage.

Southampton Coach Herm Lamison said no other team has played like that against the Mariners this season. “They played excellent,” he told reporters. “I haven’t seen a team play that kind of basketball in a very long time in the first half of play. They scored 53 points in the first half. We sort of pride ourselves on defense, and we just weren’t there. They shot the lights out.”

Yianni Rauseo was responsible for 14 points, and Steve Ascher, Tom’s twin brother, supplied 13 for Mattituck.

“It’s amazing how the shots just kept going in and in,” Rauseo said. “I thought it would be a close game, considering we lost to them the first time, but Tom Ascher kept hitting shot after shot, and the scoreboard just kept going up.”

Southampton was led by Shaundell Fishburne’s 17 points. The 6-foot-5 Colin Buonillo produced 16 points, 10 rebounds, three steals, three blocks and one assist. Donovan Trent added 11 points for the Mariners, who were 59-55 winners over Mattituck when the teams met on Jan. 13.

In the quiet Mattituck gym, well after Friday’s game, Ellwood was still marvelling at how well the Tuckers played.

“It was unbelievable,” he said. “Everything was flowing.”

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