RED DEVILS 51, TUCKERS 41
Just in case Mattituck didn’t know what it was up against, it was given a reminder before the opening tip-off. The Center Moriches coaches and players posed for photos during a pregame ceremony in which they were presented with the Long Island Class B boys basketball championship banner they earned last season.
And if that wasn’t enough, it was only 31 seconds after the tip-off when Akyse Brown of Center Moriches finished off his own steal with a dunk to rouse the home fans at Center Moriches High School.
By then, surely, Mattituck knew it was in for a game.
In many ways, though, the Suffolk County League VII game on Saturday afternoon said a lot about where Mattituck is this season. The Tuckers are young, undersized, and they make mistakes (see their 31 turnovers and 13-rebound deficit against Center Moriches). On the plus side, though, Mattituck has plenty of potential and room for growth (see the way the plucky Tuckers fought back to avoid a rout and make a game of it before eventually falling to Center Moriches, 51-41).
The larger point is that Mattituck has something to look forward to, particularly in its young backcourt. Joe Tardif, a freshman who made his varsity debut as the starting point guard in this season’s opener, and sophomore Will Gildersleeve give the Tuckers a backcourt that could be playing together for three seasons.
“We look pretty good,” Tardif said. “We have to keep using our speed and getting past the defenders and looking to dish out or shoot, a lot of transition basketball.”
Mattituck coach Paul Ellwood relishes the thought of having Tardif running his offense for four seasons. “He’s looking really good,” said Ellwood.
The coach referenced Tardif’s contributions in Mattituck’s 58-37 win over Hampton Bays on Dec. 18. The young point guard produced 14 first-half points, hitting four 3-point shots in addition to accounting for 8 assists. “He turned that game around,” Ellwood said. “He picked the tempo of the game up, got everybody involved, made the team better like a point guard is supposed to do. There is a huge upside on him, but we’re seeing a lot of it already, early.”
Nobody has to tell Gildersleeve what it is like to be a freshman learning the ins and outs of varsity basketball. Gildersleeve was brought onto the varsity team early last season before he quickly won a starting position.
“Joe’s adjusting very quickly,” Gildersleeve said. “He’s doing all the right things.”
Tardif was clearly not his regular self on Saturday, though. He woke up in the morning not feeling well, with a temperature that reached 102 degrees. That didn’t prevent him from starting the game, although he managed only 4 points in the first half before sitting out the rest of the game.
“Joe is sick today,” Ellwood said. “You didn’t get to really see our backcourt.”
But fans did get to see an improved Gildersleeve. He helped Mattituck make things interesting on Saturday with 12 points, all in the second half.
“You can tell he’s matured a lot since last year,” Ellwood said. “He’s very aggressive. Sometimes I have to try to reel him back, but he’s doing a good job. … He’s making a lot of good things happen for us.”
Gildersleeve and Tardif were part of an all-underclassmen starting lineup that included junior forwards Eugene Allen and Tyler Reeve and sophomore forward Chris Dwyer. They had their hands full with Center Moriches (2-3, 2-1).
The Red Devils stormed out to a 24-9 lead and withstood Mattituck’s attempts to chip away at that lead. Tyrell Jackson led Center Moriches with 13 points. Brown, Clarence Trent and Nigel Braithwaite added 8 points each. Braithwaite, a physical force down low, also pulled down 11 rebounds.
Allen brought the Tuckers 9 points, 9 rebounds, 5 steals, 3 assists and 1 block.
Mattituck (1-4, 1-2), which shot 1 for 13 from the field in the first quarter, made it a game again in the third quarter when it pulled to within 5 points of Center Moriches on three occasions. However, Mattituck was never able to wrest the lead away from the taller Red Devils, who put their size advantage to good use. They outrebounded the Tuckers by 41-28 (20-9 on the offensive boards).
“We obviously have to work on rebounds,” Tardif said. “We got outworked, definitely, today.”
As for the mistakes of youth, Ellwood understands that they are part of the learning process. He could take pleasure in the way his team picked up its game in the second half, though.
“They adjusted and they got used to the speed of the game, but that’s the way they are,” he said. “They’re very fast. They’ve been picking things up, and we’re getting a little better every day. Again, today’s another example. Every game we’re moving forward in the right direction.”