Man, talk about producing under pressure.
Clinging to a one-point lead in the fourth quarter of its Suffolk County League VII boys basketball game against Shelter Island, Southold was challenged with sinking several free throws down the stretch on Tuesday night.
During the final 4 minutes and 29 seconds of the home game, the First Settlers put on a show that would have made many an NBA team proud. They canned 12 of their 14 attempts to stretch their slim advantage to a 66-59 victory.
“It’s not always pretty, but their execution down the stretch at the end of the game was very good,” coach Lucas Grigonis said. “Getting those vital rebounds, they’re staying composed for the most part. And the most important thing, the difference from last year is that we’re hitting those vital free throws down the line.”
That translated into the Settlers’ first three-game winning streak of the season.
“It’s total momentum,” said junior guard Nick Grathwohl, who finished with a game-high 21 points, including downing both of his foul shots in the fourth quarter. “We have a game Thursday at Ross, so it’s a short week. We have one day to prepare for that. So, we’re going to go into that with a high head.”
Southold (6-5, 3-2) put away 15 of its 21 free-throw tries for the game.
Added junior point guard Cole Brigham, who scored six of his 12 points in the final period: “We were all just so focused. Free throws are about focus and calming yourself down. I feel we did that really well.”
The same could not be said about Shelter Island (3-8, 1-3), which knocked in only 4 of its 9 fourth-quarter free-throw attempts en route to a 9-for-17 performance for the game.
“I would say without looking at the stats you’ve got to make your free throws coming out at the end of the game,” coach Jay Card Jr. said. “What was the final difference, [seven] points? I’m sure we missed more than [that] from the line tonight.
“You’ve got to learn how to finish and part of learning how to finish is making your free throws count. We didn’t do that.”
No one did it better for the Settlers than junior forward Steve Russell, who put away 7 of his 8 free throws over the final minutes, tallying nine of his 18 points down the stretch.
“Throughout the game I wasn’t having the game I wanted to,” Russell said. “I felt I was kind of off. I just tried to have the mentality of, to be a great athlete, you need to step up in those big moments and help the team close out the game.”
Which he did.
It was a see-saw battle the entire way. Until late in the game, neither team enjoyed more than the five-point lead Shelter Island held at 17-12 with 21.2 seconds remaining in the opening quarter.
In fact, it was so close there were 22 lead changes and the game was tied 11 times.
After Nico Seddio had given the Indians a 54-53 edge after rebounding his missed foul shot, Brigham sank both ends of a one-and-one to lift the Settlers into the lead to stay at 55-54 with 2:53 left.
That’s when Russell took center stage to make sure Shelter Island wouldn’t threaten Southold. He scored a layup after a turnover for a three-point margin. Brigham hit a 15-footer to give the Settlers some breathing room at 59-55 with 1:03 to go.
Russell hit both attempts of a one-and-one with 48.6 seconds remaining to make it 61-55. He added four more foul shots over the final 33.3 seconds to seal the victory.
“His shots were really key because we ended up winning by a couple of points,” Brigham said. “If he went 5 for 8 and a few of us 1 for 2, it could be a huge point swing for us.”
Grigonis said that Russell struggled early on in the season, hitting around 50 percent of his foul shots.
“I’ve been really focused on it in practice, after practice,” Russell said. “It was something I tried to improve on.”
Which he did, quite nicely.
“It’s just me and the basket,” Russell said. “Like I’m in an empty gym alone. Just knock them down and try to say I’m 100 percent confident all the time.”
No doubt he was pretty confident Tuesday night.