Yes, you can call it a comeback.
Everything the Smithtown West boys’ basketball team had worked for led to this moment. The Bulls were faced with adversity for what seemed to be the first time all season, but they wanted to be one of just two teams to make it back to the Final 4 for a second consecutive year. Up against another league leader Feb. 21, head coach Mike Agostino said he might not have had the right game plan.
“They were really well-coached, well-prepared,” he said of No. 5-seeded and League IV leader Deer Park. “We might not have had it right, but we found a way to survive.”
No. 4 Smithtown West fell behind, and fast, losing the lead at the two-minute mark of the first quarter, and didn’t’ regain it until the fourth. In the end, junior Chris Crespo’s eight fourth-quarter points, junior Michael Gannon’s six and senior Greg Giordano’s five gave the Bulls its 50-47 come-from-behind win.
“Inside their heart and what they’re made of, it’s bigger than coaching,” Agostino said. “These kids have character, and they’re not afraid of the big moment. They’re going to go out and challenge anyone and every time they play it’s a full effort.”
On paper, it may look like Smithtown West had an easy road, going undefeated in League III and coming into the Class AA quarterfinals with a 20-1 record.
Giordano and senior Nick Ferolito gave the team a 4-0 lead after both teams went scoreless for most of the first three minutes. At the six-minute mark, a Deer Park field goal and 3-pointer put the team out front 9-5.
By halftime, the Bulls’ four-point deficit grew to six, 23-17, but the team was in as deep as an eight-point hole when a technical following a field goal gave Deer Park three more chances to grab points. The team hit two of three free throws for a 15-7 advantage with 7:20 left in the second.
“We were down the whole game, we were fighting back the whole time, but we all had each other’s backs,” said Giordano, who scored a game-high 22 points. “Coach kept telling us to stick to our game plan, eventually our shots were going to fall, and they did. We played good defense and that kept us in the game.”
Smithtown West chipped away at the lead with four different players lighting up the scoreboard, but Deer Park continued to have an answer. With 1:39 left in the third, another 3-pointer put Deer Park ahead 30-23, but a Giordano 3-pointer, Kyle LaGuardia layup and a floater by Giordano closed the gap, 32-30, at the end of the eight minutes.
Crespo opened the fourth quarter with a game-tying bucket, and the crowd erupted.
“It feels great not just for the team, but the community, too,” he said. “A lot of them are backing us here.”
The game would then be decided largely at the free-throw line.
Gannon made two at the 5:56 mark to give his team its first lead since the game’s opening minutes. Deer Park quickly tied the game, but Crespo came through again. He scored eight of his 11 points in the final stanza and also finished with seven assists.
“It was a hard-fought battle,” Crespo said. “Despite being down we always feel confident. We don’t feel rushed. We’re not frustrated or out of our element. We know that if we play within ourselves we know we’ll get good results.”
Giordano added two free throws for a four-point lead with 35.9 seconds, 46-42, and Deer Park called timeout after timeout to try to find plays to score. All the team could muster was one free throw, and the Bulls were back to the line to add to its lead. Again, Gannon sank both of his opportunities with 12.5 seconds left in regulation to give the Bulls more breathing room.
“I’ve taken 1,000 free throws in my life, so hitting a few, I felt confident about knocking them down,” he said. He scored all six of his points in the third quarter, all from the charity stripe. He closed out the game making two more with 4.8 seconds on the clock.
“When you sit down in the beginning of the season, you know Stony Brook is at the end of a long road,” Agostino said. “Now, to finally get there, it’s really exciting.”
The Bulls will take on the No. 1 seed in the semifinals for the second straight year. They’ll face Bay Shore at Stony Brook University Feb. 25 at 2:30 p.m.
Giordano said for now he’s soaking in the moment. He said the team is excited to get back to where they lost last year.
“It was surreal — this is the last game on my Smithtown West home court and it was amazing to see all the guys come together and be able to make some big plays at the end to come out with the win,” he said. “It shows with the group of guys we have — we’re all so tight, so close, we all work in practice each day — how much we can pick each other up in times like these.”