Paul Ellwood might have been tempted to think, “Well, that wasn’t so hard,” following his first season as the Mattituck High School boys basketball coach in 2004 when the Tuckers won a Suffolk County championship. Little did he know at the time that that glorious season would be followed by six non-playoff seasons that were anything but easy.
So, imagine then how satisfied Ellwood and his players must have been on Friday night to be basking in the spotlight at Farmingdale State College, reveling in their new role as Suffolk Class B champions, soaking in the applause from their fans.
“I don’t know even how to describe it,” Mattituck senior guard Connor Davis said after the second-seeded Tuckers were presented with the championship plaque following their 64-52 victory over the Center Moriches Red Devils, the tournament favorites. “We stepped up.”
Indeed they did.
This is an impressive Mattituck team, even more impressive, I think, than that 2003-4 squad, which was good in its own right. And that’s no disrespect to that 2003-4 team, which featured Scott Anderson, Ned Baker and Matt Wilsberg and won its first county title since 1979, when the Tuckers lost in a state final.
As for this team, what doesn’t it have? First and foremost, the Tuckers have a good deal of depth. They are rich in guards like Davis and the Ascher twins, Steve and Tom, not to mention Mike Mangiamele, who provides a great energy boost off the bench. You want players to hit the boards? How about the high-flying Yianni Rauseo, an exceptional athlete with springs for legs, and the 6-foot-5 Cody Huntley? Both have been instrumental in Mattituck’s fine run this season.
The odds seemed to be stacked against the Tuckers on Friday. Not only had they lost both of the regular-season games they played against Center Moriches by 19 points each this season (enabling Center Moriches to finish in a tie for first place with Mattituck in League VII), but they had dropped all eight of their previous contests against the Red Devils.
“That’s our worst matchup in the league, Center Moriches,” said Ellwood.
Not on Friday, though. The Tuckers couldn’t have written a script much more to their liking.
Being unaccustomed to the shooting background with all the space behind the baskets at Farmingdale State College, the Tuckers missed their share of shots during warmups, but that didn’t matter. “They all dropped in in the game,” said senior guard Tom Ascher.
He wasn’t exaggerating much, either. The Tuckers canned a staggering 62.5 percent (25 of 40) of their field-goal attempts to 39.6 percent (19 of 48) for Center Moriches.
All the Tuckers did their part to make their dream become a reality. Mattituck led for most of the game, and the only real bump in the road they faced was in the opening minutes of the third quarter when successive layups by Myles Bell, George Williams and Maleek Harris gave Center Moriches a 32-26 lead. Center Moriches had switched to a different sort of press, but Mattituck adjusted.
Ellwood called a timeout 54 seconds into the quarter to settle his team down, and it appeared to be a smart move. “I felt we weathered the storm,” said Ellwood.
The Tuckers went on to post a 15-4 run. Just like that, the momentum — and the game — was theirs.
“We gave away six points at the beginning of the third quarter, but as soon as that happened, we just turned it up,” Huntley said. “We kept on adding to the lead. We just kept on making foul shots, making layups.”
Mattituck employed a sound strategy. The Tuckers attacked Center Moriches’ press with fine passing. On the defensive end, the Tuckers let the Red Devils shoot from outside, denying them the lane.
“I said, ‘If they can beat us with the three, they can have the championship,’ ” said Ellwood.
The Tuckers bought themselves at least two more games, the first being against the Port Jefferson Royals in the Suffolk Class B-C-D game today at Farmingdale State College. More importantly, though, they have a date with the Malverne Mules for a Southeast Region semifinal on March 9 at SUNY/Old Westbury.
“I get 12 more days with them,” Ellwood said. “I’m going to enjoy every day.”