At times, it seemed that Mattituck was stuck in quicksand in the second half of the Suffolk County Class B boys basketball semifinal on Monday night. When the Tuckers tried to make a run at Babylon, the Panthers found a way to stall the visitors’ comeback.

The semifinal result was a disappointing 55-47 season-ending loss.

“It’s pretty tough,” said senior guard Tommy McGunnigle, who scored eight of his team-high 12 points in the fourth quarter.

The third-seeded Tuckers finished at 7-14. The No. 2 Panthers (7-12) will face top-seeded Pierson in the final Thursday night.

“It’s upsetting,” said senior forward Amir Christian, who finished with four points in the semifinal due to foul trouble. “I’m just sad to see the season end.”

Christian wasn’t alone.

“I didn’t think I would be as sad as I am,” said senior forward Mike Finnegan, who played a strong game on the boards in the second half. “We played hard, especially in the second half. All you want to do is go down swinging.”

Which the Tuckers did, after digging themselves a hole.

Babylon, which grabbed an 11-7 first-quarter lead, pulled away in the next period. The Panthers canned three treys in the opening 2:17. Junior guard Luciano Buondonno (seven points) sank two, Sincere McDougal one. McDougal added a layup off a turnover to extend Babylon’s lead to 22-8.

“We had a little stretch in the second quarter where the ball just didn’t bounce our way,” head coach Paul Ellwood said. “They out-hustled us. They got some offensive rebounds. We had a couple of costly turnovers that led to easy points for them. We wanted to make them work for everything.”

Ellwood couldn’t believe that Buondonno recorded two triples because he sank only four all season. 

“The strategy was to defend inside-out,” he said. “We were giving them threes. They had one guy with double-digit threes.”

Mattituck was more concerned about 6-foot-7 senior forward Trevor Thuma, who scored 18 points in a 46-32 Babylon win on Feb. 13.

“We did a good job on him today,” Ellwood said. “He was basically a non-factor. You probably didn’t notice him.”

Thuma had seven points.

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McDougal, a slick, ballhandling, 6-3 senior guard, was the thorn in the Tuckers’ side. He scored a game-high 24 points behind some lethal outside shooting and cutting drives to the hoop. He also notched seven assists.

“McDougal will make a play, get out in transition and take a one-on-three against our guys,” Ellwood said. “I was telling our guys to foul him at midcourt …  because no one on our team can stop him.”

Mattituck senior guards Alex Clark contributed 11 points to the semifinal and Brady Dwyer (three treys) added 10.

Clark gave the Tuckers some life 38 seconds into the third quarter, hitting a driving layup and two foul shots to move within 33-24.

The Panthers went on an 8-0 spurt, taking advantage of six basketball turnovers in as many minutes. McDougal and Caden Cerrone tallied four points apiece as Babylon secured a 41-24 lead with two minutes left.

“We were rushing,” Ellwood said. “It was not a panic mode, but maybe a little over aggressive. When you try so hard, so fast, you have bad possessions.”

Added McGunningle: “We lost the momentum. We had a lot of energy and then we lost our energy.”

The Tuckers drew within 50-43 with 2:56 left in the game, after McGunnigle scored a layup and three-pointer within 41 seconds.

McDougal then scored off a steal before converting a free throw for a 53-43 margin with 1:15 remaining.

“It was frustrating,” Clark said. “After one mistake, they’re able to score on the other end.” 

McGunnigle closed out the basketball game with a triple at the buzzer.

The game saw eighth-grade guard Antonio Sparacio make his varsity debut. Only 13 seconds after entering the contest in the first quarter, Sparacio sank a three-pointer from the left corner.

Ellwood decided to promote Sparacio from the JV after a 22-point performance (six treys) in a scrimmage against Southold.

“So maybe we’ll catch lightning in a bottle,” he said. “It was a tough situation to put him out there. Obviously, a playoff game is more intense than the scrimmage, but he handled himself well. He’s going to be a player for us down the road. I anticipate next year, with a four-year varsity starter at point guard, the biggest position, like your quarterback in football, we’re going to be okay.”

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