Lions and Tigers and scares.
Despite deficits of 12 after the first quarter, nine at the half and five entering the fourth, despite star center Luke Petrasek being held to one field goal, Northport found a way to rally for a riveting 51-47 victory over host Longwood. The Tigers will face Deer Park on Tuesday night in the county championship game.
Northport (20-1) can thank 5-11 senior guard Matt Smith for this one. He had 28 points, five rebounds and five assists. He was, quite literally the entire offense early, scoring all eight Tigers points in the first quarter, when they trailed 20-8, their largest deficit of the season.
"We've been down before," Smith said matter-of-factly.
But not by this much, not for this long and rarely this late. When Smith made a slick steal and a driving layup to tie it at 41 with 5:16 remaining, it was the first tie since 2-2.
This uphill battle was more like up-Everest. "We didn't stop believing and our fans didn't stop believing," forward Matt Milligan said, referring to a huge contingent of Northport fans who matched the large crowd for Longwood (13-7). Attendance swelled to more than the 2,400 capacity.
Smith put Northport ahead 47-45 when he navigated a traffic jam in the lane to make a layup. Milligan made a key defensive rebound and drew a foul with 26 seconds left. With the crowd roaring, he sank both foul shots for what proved to be an insurmountable lead.
Smith seemed immune to every distraction, including taller players, as he scored most of his points in the paint. "I'm not afraid to go among the big guys," Smith said.
With Petrasek limited to six points -- the 6-9 star did block five shots and grab 10 rebounds -- the ball and the offense was in Smith's hands. "Sometimes I fall off the radar with Luke and Mike," Smith said.
Not anymore. Friday night, Smith's play was downright scary.