The Mattituck High School boys basketball team might have known what it had in Luke Woods, but on Valentine’s Day 2019, the Tuckers and their fans fell in love with the precocious freshman.
Once again, Woods showed the moment wasn’t too big for him. A playoff game can be a nerve-racking experience for a veteran player, never mind a freshman, but there was Woods, thrust off the bench and facing Southampton’s high-pressure defense in a tight Suffolk County Class B semifinal on the road.
With the game hanging in the balance, Woods came through. The point guard shot 5-for-5 from the foul line in the fourth quarter when he scored nine of his 12 points to help rally Mattituck to a 71-66 come-from-behind triumph Thursday night. Third-seeded Mattituck (12-9) advances to a county final against No. 1 Center Moriches (15-5) on Saturday at William Floyd High School.
“I was really nervous but I knew I could do that,” Woods said. “When I [play] with confidence, I know I’m one of the best ones out there.”
On three occasions in the final 3 minutes, 47 seconds, Woods calmly sank free throws to tie the score at 55-55, 57-57 and 59-59.
Woods is a driver, too. The first of those trips to the foul line was preceded when Woods confidently drove the baseline for a basket while being fouled.
“You just felt the momentum swing on that,” said Mattituck coach Paul Ellwood.
Mattituck then went in front for good on a Ryan Seifert putback and two Xavier Allen free throws for a 63-59 edge with 1:15 left.
Marcus Trent (19 points) flipped in a layup before an Allen layup and an Allen free throw made it 65-61. Southampton’s Artemi Giavalas drilled a three-pointer from near the right sideline to pull the Mariners (14-6) within 66-64.
Then, Woods, the shortest player on the court (he said he’s about 5-8), came up huge again. He collected an offensive rebound off a missed Allen layup for a putback and a four-point lead with 11.2 seconds to go.
Southampton’s Dakota Smith (12 points, eight rebounds, four assists) made a layup with three seconds left, but Allen iced it with a pair of foul shots, giving him 30 points.
Ellwood took a deep breath when it was over. Woods executed a chest bump with Allen before another teammate triumphantly lifted Woods in the air.
“He’s great,” Allen said of Woods, who canned a three-pointer in the second quarter. “What can’t he do? He was shooting, driving, finishing.”
As hard as it is to do, Woods’ play almost overshadowed a tremendous game by Allen, who also had five assists, five rebounds, four assists and shot 15-for-16 from the foul line.
Southampton swept its two-game series with Mattituck during the regular season. The last time Mattituck played in Southampton, the Tuckers shot a miserable 4-for-22 from the foul line. This time, though, Mattituck netted 22 of 26 free throws to offset its 20 turnovers. Southampton went 13-for-22.
“I can tell you that’s the game right there,” said Southampton coach Herm Lamison.
The teams shot an identical 23-for-55 (41.8 percent) from the field.
Mattituck’s Trevor Poole put up 15 points and Seifert had nine. Seifert and Chris Nicholson came down with nine rebounds each.
Four Southampton players reached double figures, including Sincere Figgins (13 before he fouled out with 1:15 remaining) and Marquise Trent (11).
“This was a great win,” said Ellwood.
It helps to have a freshman like Woods, who has shown he belongs. Woods believed that before the season when he was asked what his preference was, to be a varsity reserve player or a junior varsity starter.
“I didn’t want him sitting on the bench, not getting minutes,” said Ellwood.
To Woods, there was only one answer to that question. He wanted to see varsity action.
In describing Woods’ season, Ellwood said: “He started out hot. He took some lumps during the middle of the season. Now he’s back.”
What makes Woods special?
“I would say his work ethic is almost unmatched,” Poole said. “He puts so much time into basketball. He always gives 100 percent. He assimilated really quickly.”
Ellwood said some of Woods’ teammates got a kick out of him being interviewed by reporters for the first time and teased him that he was more nervous during the interviews than he was shooting free throws with the Tuckers trailing by two.
Woods said, “No one believed in us, but this team has so much heart and I love these boys.”
The feeling is mutual.
Photo caption: Mattituck freshman Luke Woods drives past Southampton’s Dakota Smith for a basket. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)