TUCKERS 53, PANTHERS 50
Allie Wilcenski and Shannon Dwyer both felt under the weather, but played anyway. It was perhaps because of their presence on the Babylon High School basketball court on Friday night that the Mattituck team could feel better about itself.
The Tuckers had suffered tough losses in their two previous games, blowing chance after chance in a two-point loss to Center Moriches and losing by two points to Mount Sinai on a last-second three-point shot by Sarah Brand. Not only that, but they have been anything but road warriors, taking a 1-7 road record with them to Babylon.
Ailing Mattituck found a cure in victory, pulling out a 53-50 win over Babylon in a Coaches vs. Cancer Classic game.
It was just what the doctor ordered.
“I’m just happy we won, finally,” Wilcenski said. “It’s definitely a relief.”
Nicole Murphy, shooting a double bonus, sank a pair of foul shots with five seconds left to give Mattituck the three-point margin of victory. Devyn Antolini of Babylon launched a last-second attempt from three-point territory that smashed off the backboard.
Only then could the Tuckers (6-7, 4-3 Suffolk County League VII) breath easy.
“A big night for all our team,” Mattituck coach Steve Van Dood said. “It’s a step in the right direction.”
Two more wins from its remaining five league games will send Mattituck into the playoffs. But, even beyond that, the win was important for the young Mattituck team to avoid falling into a funk it might have had trouble pulling itself out of.
After a basket by Babylon’s Emily Funk tied the score at 48-48, Wilcenski converted a conventional three-point play with 42 seconds left.
Four seconds later, Babylon (2-11, 1-6) pulled two points back on free throws by Antolini.
Trailing by one point, Babylon had the ball with 20 seconds to go. Michelle Mangini inbounded the ball to Antolini, who passed to Funk before Mattituck’s Alex Berkoski made a big steal. The Tuckers got the ball to Murphy before she was fouled, setting up her two big foul shots.
“It shows a lot for our young team again,” Van Dood said. “It shows that we got over the hump. We got a win on the road, and we did it with girls actually stepping up tonight at the right time.”
Mattituck had a rough start to the game, shooting 2 for 11 from the foul line in the first half and trailing, 23-16, at halftime.
During halftime, the Mattituck coaches let the players talk among themselves and sort things out.
“They didn’t have the best first half,” Van Dood said. “We sat them down and said: ‘You know, we’ve been telling you all year what you need to do. You didn’t do it. We’re going to ask you to talk among one another and find out what it’s going to take to get this win tonight on the road.’ Obviously, they [figured] it out. I don’t know what they said.”
Mattituck played better in the second half, and that was reflected on the scoreboard. The Tuckers outscored Babylon, 19-9, in the third quarter, with 7 points from Lauren Guja and 6 from Murphy.
Two of Mattituck’s starters, Wilcenski and Dwyer, both played despite not feeling well, said Van Dood. Wilcenski, a virtual rebounding machine who sat out the previous game, made her presence known, pulling down 14 rebounds. She scored 7 points, as did Dwyer.
Van Dood said Wilcenski played with the flu. “I’ll never forget how she showed up sick tonight and she did what she did,” he said. “We needed her.”
Nine of Wilcenski’s rebounds came on the offensive end, where Mattituck dominated by a 20-9 count.
After shooting 7 for 24 from the field in the first half, Mattituck sharpened its shooting in the second half, going 14 for 20. The Tuckers hit 9 of their last 10 field-goal attempts.
“We’re working for layups, they’re hitting jump shots,” Babylon coach Chris Ryan said. “That’s what it came down to tonight.”
Guja scored 15 points. Berkoski turned in a well-rounded game with 10 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds and 3 steals.
Antolini, aided by three 3-point field goals, scored 20 points. Funk had 7 assists.
Mattituck beat Babylon by 18 points in the first meeting between the teams on Dec. 16, but the Panthers are clearly a better team now. They tweaked their zone defense and made Mattituck work hard for its points.
“The girls could have quit,” Van Dood said. “It started off shaky tonight, but the girls, I have to give them credit, they regrouped and they did the right stuff.”