First, Nakhari Nelson helped Sachem North chip away at an eight-point lead early in the fourth quarter. Then he chipped a tooth. But the chips fell just right for the Flaming Arrows, who held off visiting Ward Melville, 55-54, Tuesday night to clinch their first Suffolk Class AA playoff berth since 2011.
First, Nelson drilled a huge three-pointer from the right wing. He followed that with a quick steal and layup.
Moments later, Nelson drove the lane and tried for a lefty scoop, only to be fouled. He crashed to the floor face first and sat up bleeding from the mouth. “I didn’t feel any pain. I just wanted to get back in the game,” said Nelson, who scored 16 points. “We’ve been working for this since the 10th grade. We’re trying to make some Sachem history.”
Darius Townsend, Sachem North’s other three-year varsity guard, scored 18 points as the Arrows went on a game-changing 12-0 run in the fourth quarter to improve to 7-1. Mathew Hudzik led Ward Melville (4-4) with 17 points. He made five threes, including one at the final buzzer and one coming off a screen that gave the Patriots a 40-32 lead with 5:59 left.
After Nelson’s timely three, North coach Tommy Mullee switched defenses, from a zone to full-court man-to-man. “We needed to get the tempo going,’’ Mullee said. “We weren’t defending their bigs in the post, so I thought some pressure and traps would work.”
Nelson was not allowed to shoot the free throws for the foul he drew because his coach and trainer came onto the court. He had to sit out a play, but Troy Kohn came in cold off the bench to hit both foul shots that put Sachem North ahead for good, 41-40.
James Avanzato stole a pass and fed Townsend for a three-pointer and a 44-41 edge, and Avanzato made another steal that he converted into a layup that extended the lead to 48-41. Ward Melville’s Matt O’Hea (12 points) scored on a step-through drive and sank two free throws that made it 50-47 with 1:31 left. But Bryan Czarnecki swished a big three from the corner, and Townsend converted both ends of a one-and-one with 33 seconds left for a 55-51 lead the Patriots could not overcome.
“I had been telling Coach that I thought we should put pressure on their ballhandlers,” Townsend said. “I felt that going to the man-to-man put us in position to win. We forced some turnovers right away.”
And cashed in their chips.