On Friday night, for the first time in nearly two years, an electric Friday night atmosphere returned to Swanson Gymnasium. A lengthy 686 days passed between the boys’ basketball team’s 60-49 victory over Christian Heritage on Jan. 24, 2020 and Friday’s 55-38 non-league win over Mattituck, but the Bears ensured it was worth the wait.
The Bears welcomed their old rival and reigning undefeated Suffolk League VII Champions to Swanson for the first time since a thrilling 46-38 Friday night win in January of 2018 that helped solidify the Bears’ 18th straight postseason berth. The Bears and Tuckers split their previous four match-ups and, early on, it was clear that the Blue Fan Group could once again settle in for a week’s end battle.
Nick Zemitis opened the scoring for the Brook with a hanging jumper in the lane, but Mattituck immediately grabbed a lead they would maintain for most of the quarter with a deep 3-pointer and a layup. An Oskar Humpert runner and a Zemitis jumper bookended another Tucker 3-pointer as the visitors maintained an 8-6 edge. After both sides traded layups, CJ Edwards halved the deficit with a free throw before a Zemitis steal and a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Michael Xiang gave the Brook a lead they would not relinquish and brought the Swanson faithful to their feet for the first time. It would not be the last time.
On the Bears’ first possession of the second quarter, Xiang corralled a rebound with a great box out, then pushed the ball up the right sideline and drove the lane before dishing to Edwards for a 3-pointer. On Mattituck’s ensuing possession, Humpert deflected a pass, chased it down in the open court, and slammed a two-handed jam that brought the crowd to its feet and gave the Brook a 17-10 lead.
The momentum play did little to rattle the Tuckers, however, as they responded with a pair of fastbreak layups to pull within three. Mattituck twice edged back within two points at 21-23 and 23-25, using their speed and defensive pressure to fuel open court layups and negate the Brook’s clear height advantage, but the Bears refused to give up the lead. The hosts instead closed the half with a 4-0 spurt thanks to a jumper and layup from Zemitis, the latter courtesy of an Edwards steal, to take a 29-23 advantage into the half. The Bears controlled most of the first half, but a bushel of missed opportunities at the rim allowed Mattituck to stay within striking distance at the midway point.
Mattituck opened the second half with a jumper to pull within 29-25, but Randolph Logan scored consecutive layups to give the Bears their largest lead to that point at 33-25. At a critical juncture of the game, Mattituck responded with a 3-point play and a jumper to close to within 30-33. Zemitis ended the frame with a 3-pointer as the Brook carried a six-point advantage into the final frame.
While a cold wind whipped up outside, the temperature in Swanson continued to heat up as the game moved into its most critical moments. Mattituck opened the period with a layup before Zemitis canned another 3-pointer to push the Bear edge to 39-32. A Tucker free throw and layup allowed them to close to within four, but Logan finished a layup out of the press and followed with a putback as the Brook built back to an eight-point lead. Mattituck again answered at a crucial moment, dropping in a 3-pointer that caught every part of the rim to close to within five before calling a timeout. With plenty of time left on the clock and a fired-up Mattituck squad, it appeared the Swanson faithful were in for a taut finish. Instead, those would prove to be the Tuckers’ last points while the Brook emphatically closed with a 12-0 run.
Out of the timeout, the Bears failed to score, but a Humpert block fed a Logan layup as the Bears upped the lead to 45-38. Mattituck followed with a pair of missed free throws with 2:00 remaining before Edwards drove a nail into the coffin on a 3-point play with 1:14 remaining that brought the crowd to its feet and gave the Brook its first double-digit lead. Mattituck tried to extend the game by fouling, leading to three free throws from Zemitis and Edwards that pushed the advantage to 51-38. The final moments appeared headed for an uneventful finish, but Edwards made sure the fans enjoyed a few more roars before filtering into the night.
Off of a missed Bear free throw, Zemitis stole the ball and fed the senior for a two-handed jam that sent a charge through the Blue Fan Group. Before the crowd had a chance to settle down, Mattituck raced down the court, resulting in a Zemitis block that bounced to Xiang. The point guard sent the ball ahead to Edwards who crushed his second dunk in a span of ten seconds to send the decibels in Swanson to another level.
Zemitis led the Brook with 17 points while Edwards (15), Logan (12), Humpert (6), Xiang (3), and Osazee Alapa (2) rounded out the scoring. On a night when dynamic offensive plays stole the limelight, it was actually the Blue and White defense that paved the way for another Friday night win. The Tuckers had averaged 63.5 points per game through their first four games, but ran into a wall on Friday as the Bears held them to 38 points and just 15 in the second half.
The Bears are back in action on Saturday for a road non-league match-up at Xavier.