It took Mattituck more than half of the opening quarter to score its first points of the 2011-12 season Tuesday night against Southold. You could excuse the Tuckers if there was some rust to shake off in their first game since last year’s Regional Finals.
By the time Tom Sledjeski grabbed an offensive rebound and put it back in with 3:24 left, the Tuckers had found their sea legs.
A quick 12-0 spurt sent the Tuckers on their way to a 52-44 victory in the first round of the Southold Invitational in front of a nearly full house at Southold High School.
“We played hard, but not necessarily together,” said Mattituck coach Paul Ellwood, who leads an almost entirely new team after winning the Class B Long Island title last season. “We’re working on our chemistry, trying to define roles so we struggled with that a little bit tonight.”
The Tuckers took advantage of a depleted Southold team that was without Winston Wilcenski, who averaged 22.1 points per game last year as a junior. Southold coach Jeff Ellis declined to elaborate on Wilcenski’s absence, citing it an “internal matter.” Ellis said Wilcenski will be back in the lineup Friday for the team’s next game.
Without Wilcenski to shoulder the offensive load, the First Settlers struggled to find much flow. But there was the bright spot in the form of freshman guard Liam Walker. In his first varsity game, the 5-foot-9 Walker scored 19 points to lead the Settlers.
He scored in a variety of ways. He drained three 3-pointers, drove to the basket (including one nice play in the second quarter where he was fouled for a three-point play) and got to the free-throw line (6-of-7).
“I told him at one point, ‘You’re not a freshman anymore, go be the best player on the floor,’” Ellis said. “And I think at times he really was. Mattituck’s a good team, but he looked good.”
The First Settlers also got 14 points from senior Kyle Clausen.
With Wilcenski back in the lineup, Ellis said it will only make life easier for the other players.
“When Winston’s on the floor, a lot of that defensive pressure is focused on him,” he said.
Even without Wilcenski, the First Settlers got plenty of good looks, but struggled knocking down shots. They shot only 22 percent for the game, and relied mostly on the long ball to keep them afloat at times. They ended up shooting 6-of-23 (26 percent) from beyond the arc.
Both teams got off 58 field goal attempts, thanks to mostly even rebounding. The Tuckers had a considerable size advantage, which left Ellwood concerned that his team couldn’t control the boards better.
“We’re not going to play a team this small in our league,” he said. “We’re going to have to tighten that up and figure some things out on offense. But that’s what the first game is like.”
The Tuckers got a big game from the 6-foot-5 Sledjeski in the middle. The most experienced player among Mattituck’s few returners, Sledjeski scored 13 points and had three blocks.
“He got beat up a lot tonight,” Ellwood said. “They did a good job collapsing on him. I don’t think we got him enough touches. We tried to but we just didn’t get the ball into him.”
Ellis liked the effort he got from sophomore forward Matt Stepnoski, who while fouling out, gave the First Settlers some strong rebounding and defense.
“He worked his butt off tonight,” Ellis said. “He fouled out but still got a ton of rebounds for us.”
Sophomore Eugene Allen led the Tuckers in scoring with 14 after making his first varsity start. Allen saw some time with the varsity toward the end of last season.
K.J. Perpillar, a transfer from Riverhead, added nine points for Mattituck off the bench. Senior Austin Tuthill scored eight.
The Tuckers maintained a lead around 10 points for most of the game after their quick run in the first quarter.
Southold trimmed its deficit down to three with two minutes left in the second quarter. But the Tuckers ended the half on a 7-0 run, capped by a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Tuthill.
Mattituck led by as many as 14 at several points during the game.
The Tuckers will look to defend their title Friday in the championship game of the invitational against Rocky Point. Southold will play the consolation game against Mount Sinai.
“It’s going to pay off playing that game without Winston today,” Ellis said. “We’re going to reap the benefits because a lot of guys opened some people’s heads that we can play and it’s not all about him.”