One had to wonder if neither Mattituck or Babylon wanted to win Tuesday night’s Suffolk County League VII girls basketball game. After one team would turn the ball over, the other team threw it right back. It went on like that a number of times in an extended turnover fest, 50 in all.
Then, after playing “you take it, no you take it,” Mattituck finally took it.
Silly mistakes and turnovers aside, the teams looked remarkably evenly matched, which explains why it took 40 minutes, including two overtime periods, to settle the affair at Babylon High School. The Tuckers were all hugs and smiles after closing the game on a 15-2 run — 11-2 in the second overtime — to nail down their first league win of the season, 50-41, and ensure a happy bus ride home.
“Oh man, we needed that win,” said Mattituck coach Steve Van Dood, who wore the look of relief on his face. “I can’t tell you how bad we needed that win.”
The Tuckers (2-4, 1-1) can thank their foul shooting for this one, especially down the stretch. Mattituck canned 8 of 12 free throws in the second OT, and shot 21-for-32 from the line for the game.
“We got to the line, we made our shots, and I think that was the difference in the game,” said Van Dood.
The Tuckers might have felt as if they had orange pawprints on their jerseys after the orange-and-white-clad Panthers (2-3, 1-2) fouled them 25 times.
“There were so many fouls in the game,” Mattituck’s Emily Nicholson said. “We just made our shots, and it worked out for us in the end.”
Except for Nicholson’s three-point shot early in the second OT, all the rest of Mattituck’s points in the final period came on free throws.
Aaliya Shorter gave Mattituck a huge shot in the arm, coming off the bench for 17 points, 10 rebounds and four steals. Katie Hoeg finished with 15 points, sinking 9 of 12 free throws. Nicholson added 10 points and Sarah Santacroce eight.
Incredibly, neither team led by more than three points through regulation time. The game see-sawed with 12 lead changes. The score was tied eight times.
“It was crazy,” Nicholson said. “The adrenaline is just crazy, like your heart is pumping. So competitive. I love games like this. They’re the best games to play.”
Nicholson gave Mattituck a boost and a 33-31 lead by hitting a three-pointer late in the fourth quarter. With 25.7 seconds left in regulation time, Shorter was sent to the foul line and she made both attempts for a 35-32 edge. But Babylon pulled itself back, with Emma Ward (18 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists) sticking a three from the top of the key with 18.4 seconds to go.
Both teams turned the ball over twice for the rest of the quarter, sending the contest into overtime.
Turnovers were rampant. Mattituck had 18 of them, but Babylon had 32.
Both coaches — Babylon’s Chris Ryan and Van Dood — must have been dying inside as they watched their teams squander chances and miss shots. Mattituck shot 28% from the field; Babylon shot 22%. The teams combined for only three field goals over the game’s final 8:18.
“It was agonizing,” said Van Dood.
Babylon’s Jeilinne Bonilla (nine points, 10 rebounds) scored the first four points of overtime through two free throws and a layup. Mattituck pulled even at 39-39 with a free throw by Nicholson and three more by Hoeg.
Babylon had a chance to win it, but missed two shots in the dying seconds of the period.
The pace was fast and fatigue was taking a toll. “Everyone was so tired,” said Nicholson.
Hoeg said, “It kind of felt like we were just sprinting up and down at some points.”
All the fouling took a toll on Babylon. Bonilla fouled out with 11.5 seconds left in the first OT and Ward picked up her fifth personal foul with 35.9 seconds to go in the second OT.
Nicholson was given the assignment of face guarding Ward, a five-year varsity player.
“She’s a great player,” Nicholson said. “I was just happy that I could keep her under control a little bit.”
Hoeg said Nicholson “did great. I think she really picked it up. She’s known more for her shooting, but I thought she came alive on her defense today.”
Photo caption: Mattituck’s Emily Nicholson maneuvers toward the basket while drawing a foul by Babylon’s Danielle Donaldson. (Credit: Daniel De Mato)