Newsday runs a full-court press on Long Island high school boys basketball.
March Madness, Tuckers style
Buzzer beaters. They put the madness – and the magic – in March.
That was the case on Wednesday night at SUNY-Old Westbury, when there was a truly remarkable beat-the-clock victory by Mattituck over Malverne in the Long Island Class B championship.
The Tuckers’ Steve Ascher (above), a lefthanded shooter, made a righthanded tip-in of a teammate’s missed foul shot to give his team a 68-67 victory. It was Mattituck’s first Long Island championship since 1979, and Ascher’s game-winner turned 2011 into a vintage year in the heart of Wine Country on the North Fork.
“Everybody out here is so happy. Everybody is talking about it,” Mattituck coach Paul Ellwod said by phone before practice on Thursday. “People are saying it’s the best game in Mattituck history. It’s huge. It’s a big deal. Southold and Greenport fans got behind us. When one of those three schools is good, everyone rallies behind them. The whole North Fork unites.”
The Tuckers united in erasing a 12-point fourth quarter lead against traditional power Malverne, which had won four straight L.I. crowns. And they did it by playing the Mules’ style of all-court pressure defense. “We do press a lot, but we didn’t think the press would be the best thing because we thought they’d be too fast,” Ellwood said. “But at the end of third quarter I said, ‘let’s throw it at them and see if we can get a quick basket.’ It worked so I said, ‘let’s stay in it until they figure it out.’ They never really did.”
Still, Malverne was holding a 67-65 lead when Ascher stepped to the foul line with 4.2 seconds left. He made the first and then joined his team in a huddle when Malverne coach Darrol Lopez called timeout. “They say you shouldn’t talk about missing, but I did talk about missing,” Ellwood said with a laugh. “I reminded the bigs, ‘If he misses it, you guys have got to go after the rebound. If you don’t get it, foul over the back so we’ll at least get the ball back again.’”
Ascher missed, but Cody Huntley grabbed the offensive rebound, turned his back to the basket and spun to the lane. His off-balanced shot bounced to the left, where, as Ellwood observed, “The Ascher twins fought for it.”
Steve and Tom both leaped for the rebound, but Steve had inside position and tapped the ball towards the basket. It was a perfect freeze-frame moment. Here was the memorable sequence: The ball left Steve Ascher’s hand; the buzzer sounded and the edge of the backboard lit up in red; the ball bounced off the window and through the hoop. Pandemonium reigned.
Steve fell to the floor in jubilation, Tom right behind him. Then the entire team.
“I knew it was good. I saw the ball up there and the light went off,” said Ellwood, who called the victory the greatest moment of his eight-year varsity career at Mattituck. “I ran to jump into the pile. The first ref was starting to wave it off. Then my assistant gave me the sign it was good. I stayed out there hugging the kids for about 20 minutes.”
Ellwood enjoyed the moment so much he planned to relive it Thursday night, when the game was rebroadcast on MSG Varsity. “I can’t wait to watch it on TV. It’ll be on my TV a lot,” Ellwood said. “It’ll be like a Yankees Classic. Even though I know the outcome, I will enjoy it every time.”
It’s magic. It’s madness. It’s basketball in March.