Mike Simon played the second half as if he were armed with a shovel.
"I felt a lot of pressure to get us out of the hole we were in," the Half Hollow Hills East shooting guard said.
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The Thunderbirds dug themselves a 15-point first-half pit then climbed out. It wasn't simple, Simon. The 5-11 senior tri-captain scored all 19 of his points in the second half, including four three-pointers, as Hills East rallied for a 52-42 victory over host Northport Friday night in a Suffolk League II contest.
The T-birds improved to 11-1 and face a likely showdown for the league title next Friday at Central Islip. The Tigers fell to 6-6 and with two games left in the regular season, the defending Long Island Class AA champions still need one more victory to clinch a playoff spot.
"I thought it might be a trap game for us. We were very flat in the first half," Hills East coach Peter Basel said. "At halftime all I said was, 'When are we going to wake up?' "
The answer was almost immediately after the second-half tip. The T-birds scored the first six points and outscored the Tigers 18-7 in the third quarter, with Simon scoring 11 points including a trio of three-pointers.
"Matt was feeding me the ball beautifully and I started to feel it," Simon said of point guard Matthew Boyd, who had nine points, eight assists, eight rebounds and four steals. Boyd's two free throws to open the fourth quarter gave Hills East its first lead at 33-32 and he then fed Simon for a layup in transition.
Northport's Aaron Pulver (14 points) nailed his fourth three-pointer to tie it at 35 with 7:02 left, but that was the Tigers' last gasp. Simon keyed an 8-0 burst with a side jumper and long three. Northport got no closer than five, with Boyd sinking six free throws down the stretch. Center Jordan McRae contributed nine points, 14 rebounds and four blocked shots.
Simon also had three of the team's 12 steals as the T-birds used a 1-2-2 zone press in the second half that disrupted the deliberate Tigers. In building a 25-13 halftime lead, Northport had followed coach Andrew D'Eloia's instructions to "take 30 seconds" on most possessions and pounded the offensive boards to control the clock.
After the break, the pace favored the T-birds. "We like to force turnovers and get out and run. They got a little shaky."