Rajah Mayo wasn’t the first option on the play. He didn’t even think he was the second. But preaching a team-centered style of play for Freeport, he was ready when the ball found his hands.
After Thomas Ammendola drained a three-pointer with 2:15 remaining to give Massapequa a two-point lead, Freeport’s Chris Gross came to midcourt looking to set up a play for a big man in the middle. The defense collapsed and when Gross drove the lane, he kicked it to Mayo in the corner, who delivered in his moment by hitting a three-pointer to give Freeport a one-point lead it never relinquished.
“In my mind, I was just like I knew it had to go in and we were already down and we wanted to win,” said Mayo after host Freeport’s 58-51 victory in Nassau AA-I boys basketball Friday night. “So after it went in, the motivation went up and we just kept working and took the ‘W.’ ”
After a skid of back-to-back losses in early January, Mayo, a senior, said the team held a practice and told coach Larry Steimer they would no longer be playing individualistic basketball. They wanted to come together and perform more as a team, exactly as Steimer wished.
The results have followed as Friday marked Freeport’s fourth straight win, improving to 5-3 in conference.
“We said we have to come together and play as a team,” Mayo said. “. . . Not just one person taking control and having an ego and thinking they’re the best. Just all working together to get the ‘W.’ ”
Steimer has been thrilled with the style of basketball his team has been playing over the last two weeks. Freeport had three scorers in double figures with Rollin Bell totaling 11 points and 15 rebounds and Terryl Cowan adding 10 points, including a key layup to give Freeport a 50-47 lead late in the fourth quarter. Mayo had a game-high 16 points, including eight in the fourth quarter.
“We’re sharing the basketball more,” the coach said. “I told the guys after the game, ‘It wasn’t one guy carrying us tonight. We had a lot of guys tonight’ ”
The win served as some revenge for Freeport after losing to Massapequa, 55-53, December 23 on a last-second layup by Ammendola.
“Everybody was really motivated,” Mayo said. “We came in with the mindset that we were hungry and ready to win.”
And when it was Mayo’s turn to hit the big shot, he didn’t shy away. A mentality he and his teammates have embraced over their four-game run.
“Today we were down by three but we didn’t fold,” he said. “We came together as a team and came out with the ‘W’ in the end.”