On one hand, Mattituck remained undefeated as it cruised to its 11th successive victory, a 58-38 home win over Babylon on Tuesday night.
On the other hand, the Tuckers did not play up to their potential in their Suffolk County League VII boys basketball opener, especially with three vital games on the horizon.
Mattituck coach Paul Ellwood, however, wasn’t about to give back the W.
“It’s a league game, so check the box,” he said. “I want to win the game. We could have been better. We weren’t super sharp. We got out to a quick lead and got a little lackadaisical, but overall I’m happy. We held them to under 40 points. We got the job done. You can’t get picky over ugly wins.”
While much has been said about Mattituck’s high-powered attack, it was the first time this season the Tuckers held their opponents to less than 40 points.
Still, the Tuckers (11-0, 1-0) realized they can’t afford to play ugly during a vital nine-day stretch when they meet three League VII teams that boasted a combined 22-3 non-league record entering Tuesday’s action.
“We played very sloppy,” said junior forward Rashad Lawson, who finished with 18 points, 15 rebounds, four assists and four blocked shots. “We could have won by a lot more. We’ve got to go back to practice, play with more aggression, be more focused. We’ve got to come in Friday and play more as a team.”
Mattituck will host Hampton Bays (9-1) on Friday, play at league favorite Center Moriches (7-0) on Tuesday, and face visiting Southampton (6-2) on Jan. 18.
“It will be our toughest stretch of the season by far,” Ellwood said, “so we’ll be happy if we get two out of three. We’ll be in really great shape for the playoffs. We need five wins. We feel like we can play with Hampton Bays and Southampton. Center Moriches is a class above everybody right now.”
Ellwood said the Hampton Bays contest is a swing game. “Hampton Bays thinks they need to get that win against us,” he said. “They’re well-coached and they know us. So, I anticipate a real tough game, probably the toughest of the season to date and obviously Center Moriches and Southampton is going to be super big challenges as well.”
If the Tuckers want to make a statement, they must raise their game over the next three contests.
“Those teams are well-rounded teams and they’ve got great energy,” said senior guard Xavier Allen, who finished with a game-high 21 points, adding eight rebounds and four assists. “As long as we match their energy or go beyond their energy, we can play great. We just can’t overthink anything. That’s the main part about this game. We were overthinking a little bit.”
Lawson said the team is motivated for another reason. “We have a lot of doubters, a lot of haters,” he said. “We want to go out and prove all them wrong.”
Despite their inconsistent play, the Tuckers did enough things well to best the Panthers (1-8, 0-1), bolting out to a 10-2 advantage as Allen scored all his team’s points. Two baskets came off steals and a third from a turnover.
“I was just trying to bring energy to our team,” he said. “That’s our main problem. We’ve got to keep our energy up through the whole game, not just at the beginning.”
Lawson scored one basket in the first quarter but blocked two shots to make Babylon to think twice.
“He gets up fast,” Ellwood said. “It seems he’s up above you and he’s knocking it away. So that’s a great defensive weapon for us.”
Allen’s all-around play has gotten colleges to notice. A City College of New York assistant coach attended the game and talked to him afterwards. “It was very good,” Allen said. “He asked if I would go for a visit. He seems very interested. He was telling me about the campus. He said he likes the way I played and my intensity.”
Added Ellwood: “If he’s here, he’s really interested because you don’t see many [coaches] coming to games. They just go to the AAU circuit. X is getting a lot of D-III looks. He’s a great kid. Wherever he winds up, that place is going to be lucky.”