Boys Basketball: Another slow start proves to be Southold’s downfall

DANIEL DE MATO PHOTO | Liam Walker of Southold drives to the basket as Ross' Jiahni Guo tries to stop him.
DANIEL DE MATO PHOTO | Liam Walker of Southold drives to the basket as Ross’ Jiahni Guo tries to stop him.


A disturbing pattern has emerged for the Southold High School boys basketball team: slow starts.

In three of the First Settlers’ four games, they walked off the court after the first quarter trailing (they were tied with Shelter Island in the other one). The latest example was striking. The Ross School shot out to a 22-9 lead in the first quarter on Monday night. Try as Southold did, it never recovered, ending up on the short end of a 71-64 final score as Ross’s Leo Cheng drilled four 3-pointers and knocked down 36 points.

Like the weather outside, the First Settlers were ice cold, shooting only 26.7 percent from the field.

Coach Phil Reed is also puzzled by his team’s seeming lack of a home-court advantage. The First Settlers (2-2 over all and in League VIII) are 2-0 on the road and 0-2 at home.

Southold may have thought its slow starts would come to an end when Shayne Johnson canned a 3-pointer on the game’s first shot. But Southold’s only lead was soon blown away as Ross (3-1, 2-1) went on an 11-0 run. The First Settlers shot 3 of 17 in the first quarter.

Southold, spurred on by the efforts of Kenji Fujita, made valiant attempts to come back. The First Settlers made it a 4-point game when Fujita sank a basket while being fouled, making the score 26-22 with 4 minutes 29 seconds left in the second quarter.

Then Ross added some points of separation. The Cosmos led by as many as 20 points when a hoop by Jiahni Guo made it 54-34 in the third quarter. Southold shot 2 of 15 in the quarter.

Again, Southold went to work, whittling away at that deficit. A combination of Fujita’s play, 24 turnovers by Ross, bad foul shooting by Ross (8 of 21) and foul trouble by the Cosmos (Guo and Slage Elsesser fouled out in the fourth quarter) kept the First Settlers in the game.

Southold’s biggest scoring threat, Liam Walker, was coming off an illness that had forced him to sit out the team’s previous game, a 65-37 win over The Knox School on Friday, and he didn’t look his usual self. Walker missed his first six field-goal attempts, not hitting his first one until the fourth quarter when his layup capped a 7-0 burst, pulling the First Settlers to within 9 points of Ross. But Ross then responded with a 7-0 run of its own.

It was that kind of night for Southold.

Southold had one last charge left. An offensive rebound by Fujita set up a 3-pointer by Alex Poliwoda that ignited a 10-0 run down the stretch, cutting Ross’ lead to 69-64. But Cheng sank a pair of free throws with 20 seconds left to ice it.

Cheng, a sophomore guard from Germany, was relentless, taking the ball to the basket and scoring or drawing fouls. He also grabbed 10 rebounds.

Dan Okin (16 points, 10 rebounds), Guo (11 points, 9 assists) and Madison Hummel (16 rebounds) also powered Ross, which made 58 percent of its shots from the field.

Southold’s low shooting percentage included an 8-for-33 showing from 3-point range.

The undoubted bright spot of the night for Southold was the energetic play of Fujita, the senior forward who at times seemed to be in two places at once. Fujita scrambled for 15 rebounds in addition to the 8 points, 8 assists and 2 steals he brought his team.

Reed said it was the best game he ever saw Fujita play.

Johnson had three 3-pointers and led the First Settlers with 20 points. Poliwoda rang up 17 points, 15 of them coming on 3-pointers. Walker, who shot 4 of 15 from the field and 0 for 8 on 3-point attempts, had 13 points.

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