Center Moriches sputtered off the starting line, its offense misfiring and its defense stalling. “We were a little discombobulated,” Tyiquon Nix said.
Big word to describe what could’ve been a big problem. But Center Moriches scored the last seven points of the first half and utilized its defense and transition game to take control in the second half in a 71-59 victory Tuesday night over tough-minded Babylon in the Suffolk County B championship game at Suffolk CCC-Selden.
“We talked about it at halftime. Pick up the defense and the running game. Play Red Devils basketball,” coach Nick Thomas said after his team improved to 19-2 and made it back-to-back county titles.
It was a three-gear attack all night. Nix scored 23 points, hitting two three-pointers early and then scoring 10 points from mid-range in a decisive third quarter. Sean Braithwaite scored 20 points and his 10 rebounds helped trigger the fast break when the Devils’ defense didn’t. Troy Goode scored 21 points and ran the show with 11 assists.
“Tyiquon and Troy did a great job getting out on the break,” Thomas said. “Sean had a great all-around game, inside and out.”
Center Moriches will face Class C Greenport in the Suffolk B-CD game on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Sachem North. More importantly, the Red Devils continue their quest for a return trip to the state Final Four in Binghamton when they play the Nassau Class B champion in a regional semifinal on March 6.
“We want to get back to states and win it this time,” said Nix, who finished off a number of fast breaks as Center Moriches effectively ran the floor in the second half, building up a 19-point lead in the fourth quarter. “We’re a defense-first team. That’s when everybody gets going in transition.”
The Red Devils broke a 27-all tie by closing out the first half on a 7-0 run. Braithwaite sliced to the rim for a three-point play, Goode hit a pull-up jumper and Braithwaite sank two free throws after blocking a shot. He was active all night, converting nine of 12 free throws. That was a sharp contrast to the Panthers’ 9-for-22 night from the foul line, including missing their first seven. Joe Rende led Babylon (17-4) with 15 points, including three from beyond the arc. Aidan LaRock added 12 points.
The Panthers clawed to within 38-33 midway through the third quarter, but that was their last hurrah. Center Moriches regained a comfortable lead with a quick 7-0 burst. Nix drove for a layup, Braithwaite nailed a three from the wing and Nix finished with a short baseline jumper.
Goode sparked a clinching 9-0 run early in the fourth quarter with two blow-by driving layups as the Red Devils converted numerous forced turnovers into easy baskets. “We know that defense wins games,” Goode said. “It’s all about ball pressure and making the other team uncomfortable. Then we get out in transition.”
The other trademark of this Center Moriches team is sharing the wealth on offense. There were plenty of possessions where all five players got a touch and the ball often moved quickly, either around the perimeter or to a cutter.
“We stress ball movement,” Goode said. “When everyone touches the ball, we’re unbeatable.”