Rashad Lawson saw his opportunity and went for it.
With a little over seven minutes left in a high school boys basketball game that had long been decided, Lawson found an open path to the basket and made his move. He soared high into the air and with his right hand slammed the ball at the basket.
It didn’t go down, though. The Mattituck senior forward’s first career dunk will have to wait until another day.
That was one of the precious few things that didn’t work out for the Tuckers Tuesday. Facing a Bridgehampton team that was short in stature and experience, the Tuckers romped, 84-29, in the season opener for both Suffolk County League VIII teams at Mattituck High School.
A year and a day since the team’s last game, a playoff loss at Southampton that left Mattituck with a 16-5 record in 2019-20, the Tuckers played under the odd, pandemic-forced circumstances of no fans in the gym and players wearing face masks. (The game was livestreamed by the home school district).
Another change was obvious to those watching. The 6-foot-5 Lawson had clearly gotten taller, stronger and better. Attribute that to offseason training.
“He sprouted muscles,” coach Paul Ellwood said. “He put a lot of muscle on. I tease him. I said: ‘You put too much muscle on. That’s why you couldn’t dunk that ball.’ ”
If there were Mattituck fans present, they would have had a lot to cheer about. Lawson and his teammates did so much. It quickly became obvious that Bridgehampton, which started an all-guard lineup (three sophomores among them), faced more than it could handle, starting with Lawson. Lawson scored 11 of his game-high 23 points in the first quarter, including his own personal 9-0 run to close the period.
Bridgehampton didn’t get on the scoreboard until 10:43 had elapsed and Scott Vinski’s layup made the score 25-2.
The stunning stat of the day: Mattituck not only dominated the rebounding, 55-13, but did not allow Bridgehampton a single offensive rebound. (Lawson grabbed 15 of those rebounds).
Shooting a sizzling 47.2%, Mattituck made 34 field goals, two less than Bridgehampton attempted. Eleven Tuckers made it into the scoring column. Weston Reardon, a sophomore guard and one of seven Tuckers making their varsity debut, scored 14 points with the aid of three three-pointers. Luke Woods netted 12 points and Nate Demchak dished out six assists.
Vinski had 11 points for the Killer Bees.
Mattituck closed the game on a 32-8 run.
The Tuckers did all of this despite not having two potential starters available, Sean Lawson (Rashad’s younger brother) and Nikita Palionak. Ellwood started Liam Buckley, Declan Martin, Matt Seifert, Rashad Lawson and Woods.
“I have a lot of depth to go to, and we need the depth because even though we were winning, six minutes into the game my guys were huffing and puffing and I was rotating guys fast,” said Ellwood.
Incredibly, Mattituck still left some points on the floor, missing some chip shots and going 6-for-20 from the foul line.
Asked if he learned anything about his team from the game, Woods answered: “Definitely that everyone can play. That’s what we learned. Everyone shared the ball really well. Everyone can make shots.”
Of course, that includes Rashad Lawson, who nailed a pair of three-point shots. “I’ve been working on my shot a lot because if they have to guard me on the perimeter, it will be easier for me to drive,” he said.
Last season Xavier Allen was Mattituck’s top player. He’s now playing for Lander University in South Carolina. That means the mantle of leadership has been passed on to Rashad Lawson.
“He has to step it up,” said Ellwood, who believes Rashad Lawson can be the best player in the league. “He can’t be the second man. He has to be the man, and he acted like it tonight. He forced his will on the game right off the opening tip.”
Rashad Lawson said, “Last season we had ‘X’, of course, and he was our star player, and now I feel like I have to help carry the load a little bit more this year, and that helped build my c0nfidence and I feel like it’s building everyone’s confidence because we all have to work together.”
As for that elusive first dunk, Rashad Lawson said, “It was a little late in the game, a little dead legs, but I’m going to get one, don’t worry.”