Mattituck’s 66-37 playoff-clinching victory at Port Jefferson last Thursday night was a game of two halves for Amir Christian.
After sitting out most of the opening half due to foul trouble, the 6-foot-6-inch senior center came on like gangbusters in the second half, connecting for 14 of his 16 points to help the Tuckers clinch a Suffolk County Class B playoff berth.
“Really happy because a lot of people were doubting us,” Christian said. “They didn’t think we could make it this far.”
“Relief. Big relief,” head coach Paul Ellwood said.
And for good reason.
Mattituck’s overall (7-12) and League VI (4-9) records certainly don’t reflect a team that is playoff bound for the seventh consecutive year. That’s because the Tuckers were among four Class B teams in a league that included four Class A squads from larger schools.
The Tuckers clinched a postseason berth because they have a 3-2 record against the other Class B schools. Teams need to finish at least .500 against squads in their league or in their class to reach the playoffs.
Christian, who also grabbed 11 rebounds, was far from a one-man show against the Royals (2-17, 2-11).
Senior forward Mike Finnegan was a force on both ends of the court, scoring in every quarter en route to a game-high 17 points and 10 rebounds.
Senior guard Alex Clark tallied nine points. Junior guard Justin Fox came off the bench to contribute eight points. Brady Dwyer also added eight, canning two triples within 62 seconds in the first quarter as the Tuckers grabbed a 16-3 lead. Senior forward Jack Golder, who replaced Christian off the bench, did not score, but played some strong defense.
Christian missed most of the first-half party. He incurred his second foul 3:56 into the game and sat on the bench for the rest of the opening half.
“I wanted to play,” he said. “I knew I could do better than that. They were kind of annoying fouls. I didn’t really think they were fouls, but it’s all right. My goal for the second half was coming in to play hard.”
Which he did, scoring nine points in the third quarter.
It seemed that every time the Royals were ready to make a run, Christian made sure they could not get any momentum. Within a 23-second span, Christian converted a foul shot to finish a three-point play and put in a rebound to boost the Tuckers to a 44-28 advantage with 1:50 remaining in the quarter.
“Given his first half that he was saddled with foul trouble and that he missed a couple, he could have got down on himself,” Ellwood said. “But he picked himself up. I got into him a little bit in the third quarter to get him going.
“It was fun to watch,” the coach added. “Given the circumstances, a huge game, he’s had games statistically better, but there was real pressure on us at trying to win this game, especially coming off a couple of tough losses.”
Finnegan and Christian formed a great one-two punch up front.
“He’s obviously very tall and they don’t really have anyone that’s too big,” Finnegan said. “If they’re pressing and it’s a 3-on-2, you have to give him a bounce pass. He can almost make it every time.”
Defense also was a big factor. Ellwood was concerned about Royals senior captain Tyler Cobb, who is sixth in the county, averaging 20.5 points a game. He was limited to 14 points.
“He was getting to the paint too easily because we weren’t back and set on defense,” Ellwood said. “But in the second half that was very limited. We did a much better job of stopping him in transition.”
Port Jefferson shot only 13% (4-of-31) from three-point range.
“Their percentage was way below their average,” Ellwood said. “That was because our guys were executing on the defense. We didn’t call it defense, we call it a de-3-fense.”