TUCKERS 59, ROYALS 43
The Mattituck boys basketball team still has a pulse — barely.
True, the Tuckers may be essentially on a life-support system as far as their playoff chances are concerned, but they’re still alive. They can thank their third win in four games — a 59-43 defeat of Port Jefferson on Tuesday night — for that.
Mattituck (4-11, 4-7 Suffolk County League VII) needs to win its three remaining regular-season games in order to avoid sitting out the playoffs for the second year in a row. That is a tall order, though, with two of those remaining games coming against League VII’s top two teams, Babylon and Southampton.
“It’s tough,” Mattituck sophomore Will Gildersleeve said. “Anything is possible. We just got to keep playing hard. Playoffs are something we all strive for, obviously, but at the end of the day, I think we’re getting better as a team.”
Tuesday night’s game at Port Jefferson High School was a showdown between two desperate teams fighting for a playoff life. With its fourth loss in five games, Port Jefferson (6-9, 4-7) must sweep its final three regular-season games in order to avoid playoff elimination.
How has Mattituck coach Paul Ellwood been handling his team’s approach to the playoff picture?
He hasn’t been talking about it.
“The reality of us winning [three] in a row is very slim,” he said, acknowledging the strength of Babylon and Southampton. “Those two have kind of separated themselves from the rest of the league. No one has really been able to touch them, so right now our focus is on getting better.”
And there is tangible evidence that the Tuckers have done just that. Look at Mattituck’s 3-1 record for the second half of the league season.
“I just think we’re getting better every game, and that’s all that matters,” said Gildersleeve.
The way Mattituck hung in there and then seized the momentum from Port Jefferson to win a must-win game was admirable. Except for a 2-0 lead from a Eugene Allen layup in the game’s early moments, Mattituck trailed for the entire first half before rallying in a big way in the second half. Allen scored 7 points during a paralyzing 16-0 run that gave the Tuckers a 56-37 lead in the fourth quarter. Mattituck shot 6 of 7 from the field during that spell.
By the time a spectator was ejected from the gym for apparently criticizing the officiating with 4 minutes 35 seconds left in the fourth quarter, the game was all but sewn up. Mattituck put in 48.9 percent (22 of 45) of its field-goal attempts and outrebounded Port Jefferson, 34-24.
Port Jefferson’s shooting touch had deserted the Royals. They shot 4 of 17 from the field in the fourth quarter and 7 of 28 in the second half.
Gildersleeve led Mattituck with 17 points, falling 3 points shy of the season-high total that he put up in a loss to Port Jefferson on Jan. 4. Allen and Justin Tyler provided 14 points each and Joe Tardif delivered 8 assists. Allen also grabbed 18 rebounds, 15 on the defensive end.
Mattituck clamped down on two of Port Jefferson’s better players, Jasper Rubin-Sigler and Cody Steiner. In the second half, the Tuckers switched from a diamond-and-one defense to a 3-2 zone. Steiner scored 12 of his 14 points in the first half and he also pulled down 11 rebounds. Rubin-Sigler had 7 points and 5 assists.
“It was a sweet win,” Ellwood said. He said his team “really played smart and hard.”
Mattituck has a young team. Ellwood’s starting lineup on Tuesday night included a freshman, Tardif, and two sophomores, Chris Dwyer and Gildersleeve. The team has only three seniors — Tyler Connell, Ryan Finger and Tyler — so the bulk of the squad will be back next season, whether Mattituck reaches the playoffs or not.
Addressing Mattituck’s slim playoff prospects, Allen said: “I’m not going to look at is as like we’re going to lose. I’m going to look at it as we come out good, we come out strong, fighting, playing basketball like we know how to.”