MONARCHS 69, TUCKERS 55
If the Bishop McGann-Mercy boys basketball team seemed at home in its game at Mattituck High School on Thursday night, there was a good reason for that. Two of the Monarchs’ starters, Joe Crosser and Danny Hartmann, are residents of the Mattituck-Cutchogue School District.
But that is only part of the connection between the two teams. Mattituck’s coach, Paul Ellwood, is a former player and junior varsity coach for the Monarchs.
Those relationships and the proximity of the two schools, perhaps, had something to do with the large turnout for the game. Fan interest in the game could have come as a surprise since Mattituck had long since been eliminated from playoff contention. Although McGann-Mercy can still qualify for the postseason, it will not be easy.
To give itself its best chance, though, McGann-Mercy, with the help of five players scoring in double figures, registered a 69-55 win over Mattituck. That left the Monarchs (6-8, 4-6 Suffolk County League VII) needing to win three of their final four regular-season games in order to secure their first playoff berth since 2009. Those games will be Tuesday versus Wyandanch, Feb. 10 at Port Jefferson, Feb. 13 against Center Moriches and Feb. 15 at Babylon.
Can they do it?
“I have confidence,” Nykel Reese, McGann-Mercy’s dynamic sophomore forward, said. “I’m not going to say yes or no. I have confidence.”
McGann-Mercy coach Mike Clauberg is a believer. “Oh, this team has the talent and the ability to do it,” he said. “If they come out ready to play and we play to our potential, we have a good chance.”
If McGann-Mercy produces the sort of offense it did against Mattituck, that might do the trick. Reese (17 points), Hartmann (15), Pat Stepnoski (13), Crosser (12) and Asaiah Wilson (10) helped fuel that offense. Crosser had 8 assists.
A nifty midair follow-up by Hartmann completed a first half that saw McGann-Mercy shoot 18 of 27 from the field and take a 44-31 lead. For the game, the Monarchs shot 52.1 percent — and that was with them shooting 2 of 10 in the fourth quarter. They were 4 of 7 on three-point attempts.
It clearly wasn’t the same McGann-Mercy team that beat Mattituck by 20 points on Jan. 6.
“They’re a way better team than they were when we played them the first time,” Mattituck guard Eugene Allen said. “They shot a lot better. That’s what really killed us, the shooting.”
Not that Mattituck shot badly itself, hitting on 48.9 percent of its field-goal attempts, with 6 of 10 three-point attempts going in.
Both teams came out on fire and hit shots at a torrid pace in the first quarter (McGann-Mercy went 8 of 12, and Mattituck went 10 of 13). Allen dropped a three-pointer before the buzzer ending the quarter for a 25-20 Mattituck advantage.
Five Monarchs scored during a 20-2 run that gave McGann-Mercy a 42-29 lead in the second quarter. Mattituck wasn’t really a threat after that.
“That’s basketball,” Ellwood said. “You can lose the game in one quarter, and that’s what we did.”
Mattituck (1-13, 0-10), which suffered its 13th straight loss, received 18 points from Tom Sledjeski, 16 from Allen and 13 from Austin Tuthill. Sledjeski, whose two-handed dunk fired up the crowd less than two minutes into the game, also grabbed 10 rebounds.
The presence of the 6-foot-3 Reese in the post was a factor. He was a veritable blocking machine, swatting away seven shots.
“There’s a game plan for every team in the league,” Ellwood said. “I think they’re the toughest team to game plan for because even if they’re off shooting, Nykel will clean up a lot of that underneath.”
This season represents quite a change for both teams. Mattituck has taken a hard fall since winning the Long Island Class B championship last year. This season marked the first time in three years that McGann-Mercy has won a league game.
“Last year was tough, not winning a game in the league,” Crosser said, “but coming into this year, we all worked hard and we’re having fun.”
Acknowledging his personal rivalry with Mattituck, Crosser noted that a win over the Tuckers is special for him. He said, “It feels good to kind of win at home, I guess, in a way.”