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Paladino, Wasson spark Massapequa to ‘AA’ quarterfinal win

Bryce Paladino #21 of Massapequa maneuvers for a

Bryce Paladino #21 of Massapequa maneuvers for a shot during the Nassau Class AA boys basketball quarterfinals against Hempstead at Massapequa High School on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016. Credit: James Escher

Massapequa’s zone defense is known as “54.” Why “54”? The team and coaches prefer that be kept a mystery. But only two opponents have hit that number this season against the gritty Chiefs.

No. 4 Massapequa held visiting No. 12 Hempstead without a field goal for nearly 12 minutes on its way to a 50-38 victory Wednesday night in a Nassau Class AA quarterfinal boys basketball game.

“Defense is our key. Our whole game is predicated on team defense,” Massapequa coach Martin Voigt said after his team improved to 16-4. Up next is a AA semifinal against top-seeded Baldwin on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at Hofstra. The Tigers, who won an out-bracket game and a thrilling first-round upset, finished 9-13.

The Chiefs had to turn up the defensive heat after an icy first quarter in which they scored only six points. But they outscored Hempstead 11-2 in the second quarter, holding the Tigers without a field goal, to take a 17-14 lead at the break.

Bryce Paladino (13 points, 10 rebounds) sparked a third-quarter flurry with a three-point play on a turn-around putback followed by a baseline jumper that produced a 32-22 lead. Chris Wasson scored 12 points on four three-pointers, all in the second half. Darrell Williams, whose spectacular halfcourt heave had given the Tigers a 49-48 victory over No. 5 Plainview JFK last Friday, led Hempstead with 16 points.

“The coach’s halftime speech always motivates me,” Paladino said with a sheepish grin. “It’s happened before. For some reason I start off slow, but then I go crazy in the second half.”

What were Voight’s magic words? “Basically, he wanted me to be more aggressive and go to the basket,” Paladino said.

No words were needed regarding the Chiefs’ stingy defense. Scrappy guard Dylan Nealis made five steals to lead the disruptive effort. “He’s a game-changer,” Voight said.

Wasson said the team thrives on its defensive persona. “Sometimes we’re not the most athletic or the biggest team,” he said. “But we deny the ball and we play tough. To hold a team like Hempstead to 38 points shows how tough we are.”

Wasson was tough on the Tigers from downtown, sinking a pair of threes in the third and fourth quarters. He made perhaps the biggest shot of the game after Williams helped the Tigers claw their way to within 37-31 with 5:22 left. He took a feed from Tom Ammendola, who penetrated the lane, and drained a three-pointer from the corner. The Chiefs were not threatened again.

“My shot is the easy part,” Wasson said. “The hard part is what Tommy and Dylan do by driving and making the defense play them. They give me an open shot.”

Rarely do the Chiefs reciprocate.

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