Half Hollow Hills East hadn’t made a field goal in nearly six minutes and a 16-point third-quarter lead had disappeared late in the fourth quarter. It’s the perils of having only one senior starter.
“We have tremendous skills but we’re young,” Thunderbirds coach Peter Basel said.
‘Young’ is often coach-speak for matador defense, one-on-one offense and too many turnovers. And that’s exactly what the T-birds did for most of the fourth quarter.
“We haven’t played well for a full 32 minutes all season,” Basel said.
When they do, look out Suffolk Class AA. Meanwhile, those young guns from Hills East provide enough firepower in short bursts to make the team dangerous right now. That was the case Tuesday night, when junior Savion Lewis delivered a perfect dump-down pass to sophomore forward Shane Dean, who converted the basket, drew a foul and completed a three-point play with 2:17 left that helped the host Thunderbirds hold off Northport, 68-61, in Suffolk II.
Lewis scored all 15 of his points in the first half and contributed eight assists as Hills East improved to 3-0 in league play. Junior Julien Crittendon, Lewis’ backcourt partner, scored 16 points, Dean scored 15 off the bench and junior Kendall Nero-Clark added 10. Northport (2-1) got 12 points each from Justin Carrano and Kevin Cryer-Hassett and 11 from Ryan Magnuson.
Magnuson scored five points, including a three-point play, and Carrano and Brandon Raffa added four each during a 16-0 run that began when Cryer-Hassett beat the third-quarter buzzer with a long three-pointer. Carrano sank two free throws with 3:37 left in the fourth to shockingly forge a 55-all tie.
“Give Northport credit. They’re disciplined. They recognize defenses and they never quit,” Basel said. “And the way we played in the fourth quarter gave them confidence.”
But Hills East never totally lost its own swagger even as it lost the lead. “We made a bunch of foul shots in the fourth quarter, and that’s been our Achilles heel all season,” Basel said, citing an earlier loss to Commack in which the T-birds shot 11-for-31 from the foul line.
But they made all 11 of their free throws in the fourth quarter; the Tigers missed five in a row in the final two minutes.
After the Tigers rallied to tie it, the Thunderbirds went on a 7-0 run, keyed by Dean’s three-point play, to take a 62-55 lead. But a three-pointer by Vin DeCeglia and a steal and layup by Raffa made it 62-60 with 1:26 left.
That’s when Dean nailed two clutch free throws and Kioni Nedd and Crittendon added two foul shots each in the final seconds.
Crittendon and Lewis form one of Suffolk’s best backcourts. “When they’re passing and running, they can up-tempo a game,” Basel said. “Savion can break down anyone off the dribble and Crittendon is a great spot-up shooter and crafty ballhandler. It’s a tough 1-2 punch.”