It hadn't been the start that Vincent Abbondola and Pierre St. Simon had hoped for.

Four losses to open the 2014-15 season? Really? But Abbondola and St. Simon weren't at a loss for words as to how it happened.

Taking better care of the basketball and executing coach Victor Correa's system would be part of the solution, Abbondola and St. Simon said.

And the attention to those details finally paid off Saturday afternoon for the Suffolk CC men's basketball team.

Jahmal Gardner's 21 points, five rebounds, five assists and two steals led the Sharks to an 84-65 home win over Dutchess CC.

"Guys haven't seen this talent yet,'' said Abbondola, who had 17 points and six assists. "We need to cut down on turnovers and stop giving the other team the ball. It seems we're a little nervous out there.''

St. Simon agreed. The sophomore forward is one of only two returning players from last season. The other is Abbondola.

"We're a young team getting used to Coach's system,'' said St. Simon, who had 12 points and five rebounds. "It's about defense first. We run a 3-2. We got to get used to playing the defense that Coach likes. Once we get that, we'll be all right. It's the adjustment. The competition is better here.''

With the Sharks coming off a season in which they were ranked sixth in the nation at one point, Correa said they aren't used to climbing uphill.

"The most important thing that we have to understand at this level is that it's hard to step in and be successful right away,'' he said. "Usually, when guys come here, they're not ready physically and mentally to compete at a high level. As long as we're making strides, we'll be OK.''

Scoring isn't what concerned St. Simon. He likes what he sees in the motion offense. It was the Sharks' inability to fix what has been going wrong on defense that bothered him.

"It's new to these guys,'' he said. "Some guys are out of position, especially defensively. It's been about not sliding your feet the proper way because they're not familiar with the 3-2.''

How does St. Simon want to see the defense play the remainder of the season? Lock up and don't give your opponent an inch, just like the Dutchess CC game on the Selden campus.

"Guard the perimeter and make sure you're able to match up well inside,'' St. Simon said. "It's about playing hard, don't be nervous, follow me and Vinny. Hustle and play every play 100 percent. We got to play with more heart at the end of games. Find a way to win.''

Sophomore swingman John Peloso hasn't always seen that tenacity on both ends of the floor.

In the Sharks' Region XV opening loss to Queensborough, Correa said his club "didn't compete for 40 minutes.'' To Peloso, that's unacceptable.

"It's about not slacking off during games,'' he said. "We talk to each other about it. I have no idea why it happens. There's no need for that. I'm starting to see in practice lately that we're getting more and more mature as a team.''

Peloso delivered last Saturday with 17 points and six rebounds.

One game at a time, Correa said, hoping the Sharks are in better shape record-wise by midseason. If the Dutchess CC win is any indication, Suffolk CC is on the right track.

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