Boys Basketball: Hampton Bays proves too much for Tuckers

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Eugene Allen of Mattituck trying to pass by Hampton Bays' Luke Mercurio.


Every minute counts in a high school boys basketball game. Mattituck was served a sharp reminder of that on Tuesday night at Hampton Bays High School.

Mattituck paid a price for a pair of rough spells during a relatively short period of time in the first half of the Suffolk County League VII game. In the opening several minutes, the Tuckers fell behind, 15-5. A 10-2 run by Mattituck then trimmed Hampton Bays’ lead to 17-15 early in the second quarter. But the Baymen, who trailed only once at 3-2, went on a 9-0 run in the final 65 seconds of the first half to pull away.

The good work the Tuckers did in the first half wasn’t reflected on the scoreboard. They trudged to the locker room at halftime trailing by 11 points and wondering, perhaps, what had happened. They might have been asking themselves the same question afterward, too, when they were left on the short end of a 65-47 final score.

“I think we lost the game in two little spurts in the first half, the first two minutes and the last two minutes,” said Mattituck coach Paul Ellwood. He added, “It just broke our back.”

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | The play of freshman guard Will Gildersleeve, shown attempting a shot while Justin Carbone of Hampton Bays closed in on him, has impressed Mattituck coach Paul Ellwood.

Mattituck had maneuvered itself to within two points of Hampton Bays when a Tom Sledjeski layup made it 25-23 late in the second quarter. It was a tease for the Tuckers, though. Over the final 65 seconds of the first half, Harry Fotopoulos of Hampton Bays converted a conventional three-point play, sank a basket before teammate Luke Gustafson did, and then Fotopoulos nailed a jump shot from the top of the key to beat the halftime buzzer.

“We just fell apart a little bit there,” said Mattituck guard Austin Tuthill.

Just like that, Hampton Bays was up, 34-23.

“We just took off from there,” said Hampton Bays guard Luke Mercurio.

Justin Carbone’s deft shooting touch came in handy for Hampton Bays (5-3, 3-1), particularly in the second half when the junior guard notched 16 of his team-leading 18 points.

Three baskets by Sledjeski and one by Ryan Finger (a three-pointer) — all in succession — enabled Mattituck to cut Hampton Bays’ lead to seven points at 41-34 in the third quarter, but that was as close as the Tuckers got in the second half.

Teamwork was a vital element in the Baymen’s victory. They totaled 23 assists, many on layups, which helped account for their 56.9-percent field-goal shooting percentage.

Nine of those assists were provided by Mercurio, who was double-teamed by Mattituck (1-7, 0-4). “So they were taking me out of my game for scoring, but they were leaving people open, so I just dished and they finished,” said Mercurio, whose well-rounded game included 11 points, 6 rebounds and 5 steals.

“He scored 11 tonight, but he was the best player on the floor,” Hampton Bays coach Pete Meehan said. “His work ethic is as good as any kid I’ve coached. He has one speed, and that speed shows up every day of the season. That’s what separates him from a lot of other standout players.”

Fotopoulos finished with 15 points.

Sledjeski poured in 20 points and Eugene Allen added 9 for Mattituck.

Hampton Bays made a bold statement with its play last Thursday when it defeated highly regarded Center Moriches — in Center Moriches.

“It’s a good win. They’re as talented as anyone in the league,” Meehan said. “We said we can beat anybody and we can lose to anybody, and I think that’s a very true statement. I think the kids learned more about themselves than anything else. If they had any doubts about how good they can be, they found out that night.”

Ellwood noted that Mattituck cut down on its turnovers (the Tuckers had 17). He also said he was happy with the play of Allen, a sophomore, and freshman Will Gildersleeve in the back court.

“As the games keep going, we’re playing better together, the chemistry’s rising,” Tuthill said. “Our future games are going to be better. We’re making progress every day.”

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