Boys Basketball: SWR drops key game, but playoff hopes still alive

After losing to Hampton Bays 69-51 early in the season, Shoreham-Wading River head coach Kevin Culhane was determined, heading into Thursday night’s rematch, to slow down the third-seeded team in Division IV. And his plan was working.

The goal was to limit Hampton Bays’ best scorer, Kazmin Pensa-Johnson, who ranks third in Suffolk County in scoring with 25.8 points per game. To do that, Culhane relentlessly double-teamed the 6-foot-5 forward, forcing another member of the Baymen squad to beat them. He directed Wildcat Jesse Fehmel to hound Pensa-Johnson from one side of the court to the other, not giving the forward any space to breathe. The Wildcats clearly frustrated him, holding him to only eight points in the first half.

Culhane also wanted his Wildcats to play a half-court game, rather than rushing up and down the court. He wanted them to take their time and run plays. When the Wildcats tried to push the tempo, it usually ended in turnovers. The coach was animated on the sidelines throughout the game, making sure the Wildcats were in the right positions. In a game that Shoreham Wading-River (4-7 Division IV, 7-9 Overall) virtually had to win to keep their playoff hopes alive, they were looking like the better team playing on their home floor this time around. 

Max Julian goes up for a shot but was fouled by Kazmin Pensa-Johnson. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)

After a back and forth first quarter, the second quarter belonged to the Wildcats. They forced seven turnovers and extended the lead to as much as seven points. Wildcat Max Julian was scoring at will using his patented spin move to get to the paint for layups. He finished the game with 16 points. 

The third quarter, too, belonged to the Wildcats – with Alex Makarewicz and Tim Manzello getting into the scoring mix. They each finished with 10 points. Shots were falling short and Shoreham-Wading River maintained their lead. Great defense was the key to success. Hampton Bays (8-3 Division IV, 13-4 Overall) was forced into 14 turnovers coming into the fourth quarter.

Things were looking up – until the Baymen’s Pensa-Johnson finally let loose. Shoreham-Wading River started to lose focus and turn the ball over as the Baymen cut into the lead, one basket at a time.

“Turnovers, execution, forced shots, it was just a meltdown in the fourth quarter,” Culhane acknowledged after the game. “Instead of staying with what we were doing and putting them away, we started taking bad shots, missing easy shots and giving up key rebounds,” he said. “As great as we played the first three quarters, it was just a meltdown. Don’t know how else to describe it.”

Pensa-Johnson scored 12 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter. Wildcat fans winced as the Baymen took the lead on a steal and fast-break score, followed by a no-doubt-about-it three pointer from Pensa-Johnson that silenced the crowd. To add insult to injury, he took another possession coast-to-coast and finished it with an empathic slam dunk. 

Once the Baymen got ahead, there was no looking back. Shoreham-Wading River only managed to score 6 points in the fourth quarter and lost the game, 54-46.

“It was really devastating,” Culhane said. “When we ran our plays, we scored. When we went away from our plays we got into trouble. It’s as simple as that. Give Hampton Bays credit, they fought back and hit shots when we didn’t.” Even after this heartbreaking loss, Shoreham-Wading River still has a shot for the playoffs.

“Theoretically, yes,” Culhane said. “We need to run the table and win out. Winning this game would have made it easier.”

The Wildcats will finish the season against (0-10) Miller Place, (7-3) Bayport-Blue Point and (9-1) Mt. Sinai. A loss will mathematically eliminate them from the playoffs.