Defense won the Bulls this basketball game.
The Smithtown West boys’ basketball team came out blocking shot after shot against a tall West Islip team, outscoring the competition 55-28 in its League III opener.
“I loved the defensive intensity. The defense is our backbone this year,” Smithtown West head coach Mike Agostino said. “We like to hold a team under 30 points. We have to defend, we have to help each other and play pressure defense, and that’s what gives us extra possessions and gets us extra shots.”
Although the Bulls won by a wide margin, the game wasn’t always that way.
After more than three minutes of play, both teams were scoreless. It wasn’t until the 4:36 mark that senior Matt English nailed the tail end of his free-throw attempts to get the first point on the board.
A minute went by until the team scored again, with senior Doug Levy coming up with a big block before sophomore Chris Crespo intercepted an inbound pass and converted it for two points. After another Levy block, West Islip called a timeout.
“The first half, we didn’t get shots to fall, but we were playing really good defense,” Crespo said. “Shots blocked, a lot of steals, points on turnovers and a lot of good stuff like that, so I think the defense really helped us win this game.”
At the 1:11 mark, English scored on a putback to extend the Bulls’ lead to 5-0, but a West Islip field goal and three-pointer sandwiching junior Kyle LaGuardia’s free throw and field goal off a rebound on his own free-throw miss brought the score to 8-5 at the end of the first quarter.
Crespo started off the second stanza with a three-pointer, and after a West Islip field goal, Levy added a putback and junior Gordon Shouler followed with a three-pointer of his own to extend the team’s lead to 16-7.
“Going into the second and especially in the third quarter, we were really getting our shots to fall,” Crespo said. “And still, the defense continued to remain strong.”
By the halftime break, Smithtown West had doubled West Islip’s score, 24-12.
“We don’t shoot as much as other teams have, but we do have plenty of guys that can shoot and get hot quick,” Agostino said. “We just have to find our rhythm, but this is only our second game.”
English and senior guard Nick Grande powered the Bulls through the third. First, English began the scoring with a putback, and after four West Islip points, Grande started off his scoring for the evening with a field goal.
English swished two free-throw points, and West Islip scored a field goal of its own, but Grande answered back when he converted a putback for two.
West Islip grabbed another rebound, but Grande nailed a three-pointer to extend the Bulls’ lead to 37-18. The two teams traded field goals again and West Islip tacked on a two free throws to bring the score to 39-22.
“Everything starts on defense and I think we played four full quarters of defense, so that’s always going to keep you in the game,” Grande said.
What helped the team besides its defense was having a myriad of players that can score. Eight different players contributed to the team’s total score, which isn’t common.
“When other teams are getting fatigued, we’re still rotating new guys in,” Grande said. “It definitely puts a lot of pressure on them to keep up with us.”
Five different players scored in the fourth quarter, and by midway through the final eight minutes, Agostino was able to swap in his bench players to get playing time.
Grande and Shouler finished with 11 points each, Crespo added eight with six assists and three rebounds, and English scored seven points and had seven rebounds.
“Even those guys that are coming in late in the game, they’re doing the same thing,” the head coach said. “They’re defending, they’re being aggressive, they’re rebounding and it’s those constant waves of aggression that are coming at teams that I think can really help us down the line.”
Agostino would like to see some improvements in the team’s offensive game, but so far, he likes what he’s seeing.
“Once that happens,” he said of the progression throughout the season, “I think we’ll be really tough to beat.”
Smithtown West travels to Newfield on Thursday, with tipoff scheduled for 5:45 p.m.