CORTLANDT MANOR, N.Y.— They may have lost three straight games, but the Mahopac Indians took a stride forward in their 62-54 setback to the rival Lakeland Hornets in the consolation game of Walter Panas’ 15th annual Holiday Basketball Tournament on Saturday, Dec. 10.
Following a first half filled with 19 fouls and cold shooting from the Indians, they found themselves down 35-21 at the break.
“We came out flat to start the game,” Mahopac coach Matt Simone said. “But we grouped together especially at halftime, really focusing on the effort part and we came out with a great effort.”
Sophomore Zack Puckhaber opened the second half with a bang, nailing a baseline 3-pointer off a drive and kick from junior guard Kenny Perna.
Mixing in a man-to-man press, the Indians’ intensity started to force turnovers. Another pivotal three from the corner by Robert Garcia minimized Lakeland’s lead to 44-39 entering the final quarter.
Surrendering a 9-4 run to start the fourth, Mahopac needed one more corner triple. Perna knocked it down, trimming the margin to eight with four minutes remaining.
Senior guard Andrew Ryan hit a fast-break jumper after Shane Loos made a key block from behind to creep the Indians within five points with two minutes to go.
But the Hornets buzzed back for a quick four points as Tim Fallo made two free throws before John Mule’ had a steal and converted a layup to make it 59-50.
“We have a lot of guards,” Simone said. “One thing we try to do is pick up the tempo offensively and defensively. A downside to that is that some guys are not making the best decisions. We still have a young, inexperienced team and just need to work on taking care of the ball.”
It was not over yet, as Ryan drove for a layup and drew a foul of his own on the next possession. He sunk both free throws, trimming the deficit to 59-54 with a minute left.
The comeback was panning out until Perna’s one-and-one foul shot zipped right out of the rim as Ryan proceeded to foul out.
Fallo made both free throws again, as Mahopac handed it to Loos, who drove and air-balled a shot. With no other choice, the Indians sent Lakeland to the line with 18 seconds remaining.
It made its first free-throw and rebounded the second.
“When we play with the effort we gave that whole second half, we can play with anyone,” Simone said. “It is whether or not we are doing those small things and playing as hard as we can on each possession. That makes the world of difference, especially in high school.”
Puckhaber, who scored 10 points in the consolation game and 19 points in two tournament games, was named to the all-tournament team for Mahopac.
Ryan chalked up 15 points while Perna tacked on nine. Junior Noelle Hall sparked the Indians off the bench, scoring eight points. Garcia netted seven points while Loos contributed with four.
“Before this tournament, the coaches were telling us that we need to play more as a team,” Ryan said. “I feel like towards the end of the second half of this game we started to play like more of a team and it showed.”
The Indians fell to host Walter Panas 58-40 in the opening round of the tournament on Friday evening.
Perna led Mahopac with 12 points and shot 4 of 6 from the line. Puckhaber scored nine points while Loos had seven. Ryan and junior Augie Djerdjaj tallied four points.
“We were in a funk the past two games versus Panas and against Horace Greeley before that,” Simone said. “Our guys were not giving the effort that we gave in the beginning of the season versus Carmel and Yorktown.”
The Indians hosted the Clarkstown South Vikings on Dec. 13 and will seek revenge on Somers in the Tuskers’ tournament on Friday, Dec. 16, at 5 p.m.
“We have a lot of energy on defense,” Ryan said. “But on offense, our shots were not falling today and eventually they will as the season goes on. Once our center Ryan Dugan comes back from injury and we all build together as one, we can be unstoppable.”