WILDCATS 56, BAYMEN 40
Shoreham-Wading River coach Kevin Culhane had seen enough after Luke Gustafson cut to the basket, caught a pass and converted a layup for Hampton Bays late in the first quarter Tuesday afternoon.
Culhane called a time-out and ripped into his team, his voice reverberating throughout the gym at Shoreham-Wading River High School. The Wildcats trailed 11-6 at the time as the Baymen sliced through Shoreham’s man defense to get easy buckets around the hoop.
So the Wildcats called it quits on the man, switched to a basic zone defense to force Hampton Bays to shoot from the outside. The results spoke for themselves.
The Wildcats finished the half on a 17-4 run en route to a 56-40 non-league victory.
“I just went in there and banged them on the head,” Culhane said of the first quarter time-out. “They knew it. We had to go to our 2-3 matchup zone after that, which I think did a pretty good job because they’re not the strongest outside shooting team.”
Hampton Bays finished the first half 0-8 from beyond the arc. The Baymen (0-1) finally got it going from three in the fourth quarter, but still finished the game only 3 of 18 (17 percent) from three.
The Wildcats (2-1) expected their defense to be a strong point this season as they figured things out offensively. And it was the defense that allowed them to pull away from Hampton Bays in the first half. After Hampton Bays senior Luke Mercurio hit two free throws with 5:24 left in the second quarter, the Wildcats held the Baymen without a point for nearly eight minutes, stretching into the third quarter.
Hampton Bays scored only five points in nearly 13 minutes of action after Mercurio’s free throws.
“We were playing a little lazy defense, not enough energy,” said Shoreham senior John Kovach. “When we switched to zone we knew we had more responsibility, more ground to cover and then we had more energy. We played tighter defense and locked them up.”
Kovach carried the Wildcats on the offensive end early. He scored 14 of the team’s first 16 points and finished with a game-high 22.
Hampton Bays played mostly zone and the Wildcats were able to get Kovach the ball close to the basket where he could go to work.
“I would get the ball in the corner of the zone or in the wing of the zone and I realized I had some spots I could go to and get open looks,” Kovach said.
Culhane said Kovach’s overall performance, from his rebounding to defense, was exactly what he hopes to see each night.
“He played a terrific game today,” Culhane said. “He played everything we’ve been looking for from the first two games. He relaxed today. Kudos to him. He did a great job.”
The Wildcats relied heavily on their starters. Tim Rotanz came off the bench to give the Wildcats some good minutes and sophomore Sean Condron got some time at guard and knocked down one shot late in the third quarter.
Culhane said he hopes to go deeper into the bench as the season progresses.
“I’d like to have eight guys,” he said. “I’m playing really six and a half.”
While the Wildcats don’t have much depth at this point, the starting group has had plenty of opportunity to develop chemistry.
“Most of the guys have played in all our leagues in the fall and spring,” Kovach said. “When we’re on the court we know what we like to do and we know what our strengths are and what our weaknesses are so we try to keep to the strengths.”
The 56 points was by far the best offensive output for the Wildcats so far in the early part of the season. They scored 34 in the season opener against Sayville and 32 in a loss to Eastport-South Manor.
While Kovach carried the team early, the rest of the group picked up the slack in the second half.
Junior point guard Kevin Turano finished with 11 points and hit a pair of 3-pointers. Senior Robbie Bray added 10 points and Rotanz had seven.
“When they run through [the offense] we get some beautiful shots,” Culhane said. “The kids work it well. It’s just a matter of them being strong with the ball. Every game I’ve seen them get stronger.”
Culhane said a big key to the team is Turano at point guard. As a backup last year behind Kevin Davis, who was all-county, Turano got a chance to learn a lot.
“It was a great experience for him and he’s done a good job,” Culhane said. “Point guard in high school is probably if not the key player, one of the key players.”
The next game for Shoreham will be the start of league player next Tuesday when the Wildcats host Westhampton.