Boys Basketball: Tuckers earn decisive victory over Settlers, 70-39

Midway through the second quarter, Mattituck High School boys basketball coach Paul Ellwood glanced at Southold highs new scoreboard and noticed his team held an eight-point lead.

“This is going to be close for a while,” he said to himself.

Then again. 

When Ellwood peered at the score again at the halftime buzzer, the Tuckers held a commanding 37-16 advantage. 

“That went fast,” he thought.

A 14-0 burst that closed the quarter tipped the game in Mattituck’s favor and put them on pace for a 70-39 victory in a Suffolk County Division 5 game Tuesday night. 

Two seniors stood out as the Tuckers closed in on a Class B playoff spot. Forward Gavin Richards enjoyed a career night, burying six three-pointers on way to a game-high 21 points. Guard Trevor Zappulla scored 11 of his 14 points during that decisive second quarter.

The Tuckers (7-5 overall, 5-2 in the division) have won five of their last seven games need to win just one of their remaining five matchups to clinch a postseason berth for the sixth consecutive season. They play next at Pierson Thursday night. 

Mattituck was expected to make the playoffs in each of the last five years. This season? Not so much, at least not by the team’s division rivals.

“This year a lot of people weren’t expecting us,” Ellwood said. “Our summer league team, I think we had one win. We had little experience coming back. We didn’t have a superstar player like we’ve had in the past. A lot of teams are counting us as wins on their schedule. That has not necessarily been the case. The kids are making up for it by playing great team ball and team defense, making us a better team than a lot of people thought we were going to be.”

Richards, who added five rebounds and two assists, said he wanted more than to just make the postseason. 

“We’re working on getting a home playoff game,” he said. 

“That’s the goal,” said Zappulla, who contributed six assists and four steals. “We hope to make it past the first round and ultimately win.” 

If the Tuckers can play as well down the stretch as they did Tuesday, they might be able to do some damage in the postseason. 

Collectively, they had a hot hand. Their shooting was off the charts, with the team connecting on 53.7% of their field-goal attempts (29-for-54). 

Richards set the tone by sinking two three pointers as the visitors opened up a 15-9 first-quarter lead. Michael Mowdy (10 points), added two treys and Michael Finnegan and Zappulla had one apiece in the game. 

“Never really shoot too much, to be honest,” said Richards, who missed only one from behind the arc, “but I was just feeling it tonight. So, I had to let it go.” 

Ellwood said he felt there were a couple of times where Richards could have made an extra pass, but he couldn’t argue wiuth the results. “I can understand him taking a step back when he’s feeling it like that. A hot hand, it’s always nice to get one of those. It wasn’t like Southold was saying ‘We got to take away Gavin Richards’ three-point shooting.’ They were probably thinking more about Mowdy and Trevor.”

With just under four minutes remaining in the second quarter, Jaden Olsen (8 points) drained two free throws to give the Tuckers that eight-point margin Ellwood took note of. 

After that it was all Mattituck. The Tuckers put on a press that rattled the hosts while scoring 10 unanswered points in the final 64 seconds of the half. The final six points came off three turnovers. Zappullo had two layups, Sean Lawson one. 

“They took out two of their guards,” Zappulla said. “We tried to take advantage, press them and speed them up. It worked.”

Ellwood was impressed with Zappulla’s composure. 

“He very poised” he said. “We talked about when teams switch to man-to-man [defense] and you get a favorable matchup, go to work. He did a good job.” 

Southold (5-11, 4-9), was paced by Skyler Valderrama (10 points), and needs to sweep its remaining four games to reach the postseason. The First Settlers host Southampton Thursday at 6 p.m.

“Tall task,” head coach Lucas Grigonis said. “There are no easy games.”