Smithtown East’s comeback effort, despite a 24-point showing from senior forward Kevin Keese, may have fallen short Tuesday with a 59-54 nonleague loss to Sachem North, but the team is optimistic about its chances moving forward.
“I thought we played really hard and that’s our hallmark,” Smithtown East head coach Keith Reyling said. “We have to be a team that outworks other teams. I think at times today we got outworked, and that was disappointing, but we never gave up. It’s going to be like this every night. We’re going to work hard like this every night and work on our identity by defending better.”
Sachem knocked down the first three points, but Smithtown countered when junior small forward Sam Wahba made two free throws.
“I thought we could have played a lot better,” he said. “Staying in it speaks of our heart and how hard we wanted it, but at the end of the day we just got to play better defense.”
After forcing a turnover that led to a three-pointer by senior guard Conor Wooley, Keese snatched the ball out of midair and converted the turnover into points of his own when he scored a layup that gave his team its first and only lead of the game, 7-5.
Keese said he agreed with Wahba though, about the lack of defense.
“We all could’ve stepped up on defense,” he said. “We had too many gaps in our defense, and I don’t think we should have lost to this team. We definitely have the skill level there, but tonight we missed a couple odd shots and the defense hurt, too.”
Sachem scored the next seven points to pull out in front 11-7 before Smithtown sophomore forward Brian Cosgrove tacked on a layup. Sachem closed out the scoring in the first stanza with a free-throw point to maintain the lead heading into the second.
This was where Keese got down to business.
After opening the scoring with a layup, Sachem countered with a layup and free throw, and two more free throws, for a 17-11 lead, before Keese added two field goals. Keese had a counter for everything, and answered Sachem’s ensuing three-pointer with one of his own. Sachem scored another two points, but Keese drew a foul and missed on the tail end.
“I’m so happy that he’s on our side,” the coach said, laughing. “He’s an outstanding player. No one works harder than him. He gives us everything he’s got.”
Wahba scored a layup with 4:28 remaining until the halftime break, and helped the team close the gap to one point, 22-21. The gap didn’t stay closed for long, though. After Sachem North scored the next six points, Smithtown junior guard Connor DeSimone scored a field goal, but Sachem countered with two of their own to jump out in front, 32-23. By halftime, the Bulls edged closer, but trailed 34-28.
The two teams traded scores in the third, and by the end of the next eight minutes, Sachem re-extended its lead, 45-36.
Fouls continued to plague Smithtown, as the opening foul led to another Sachem point, but Keese continued to rack up the points with two free throws and a field goal that sandwiched a Sachem two-point shot.
Smithtown tacked on four more points before Sachem scored, and with 2:08 left to play, DeSimone scored a layup to make it a three-point game, 53-50,
“They fought to the very end,” Reyling said. “The game looked like it could have been over a couple of times. We made some shots and fought back and forced some turnovers. We gave ourselves the chance to tie the game, having the ball down by three twice, the shots just didn’t fall for us.”
Fourteen seconds later, DeSimone scored a long two-point shot to again make it a one-point game. Sachem was able to tack on six points off of foul shots, though, and Smithtown missed two free throws and several three-point attempts. Keese scored the final two points for Smithtown with 16 seconds left on the clock.
“We started off hot and then we kind of lost it in the middle, but we definitely didn’t fold at the end, so it showed some good signs for us,” Keese said. “It’s huge for a young team like us. We’re finding out our strengths and weaknesses, and to keep up the intensity was huge. I think we’re starting to mesh as a team better, so it looks promising.”