Long Beach’s chemistry was on display during and after last Saturday’s 84-76 victory over visiting East Meadow in a Nassau Conference AA-II boys’ basketball game diverted to the middle school due to a wrestling tournament.
The Marines, who had four players score in double figures and four others contribute a least two baskets, used their teamwork to cap a postgame playoff-clinching celebration when they doused head coach Scott Martin with a Gatorade bucket full of water.
“That was a first for me as a basketball coach,” a soaked Martin said. “The kids are excited. We missed the playoffs three years in row, so it feels pretty good. I don’t think we can finish any higher than third behind Baldwin and Port Washington, but the way we’re playing I think we can make a push to go deep in the playoffs.”
Senior Gerard Burns led the output with 22 points, junior Jaden Barwicki added 16, and juniors Alex Bauer and Evan Michaels chipped in 10 apiece as Long Beach (6-4 in AA-II, 12-5 overall) won for the fourth time in five games. East Meadow (2-8; 5-12), which trailed by as many as 16 early in the second half, never waived a white flag and got a game-high 34 points from senior Sultan Mirza and 20 from junior Nelo Williams.
“They’re a good team and they beat us inside and in transition,” East Meadow head coach Bobby Kopp said. “I couldn’t be prouder of how we competed. We were shorthanded and had one kid foul out, but our effort from start to finish was tremendous. We moved the ball well and created open shots.”
Mirza, who ranks among Nassau’s leading scorers at 22.4 points per game, carried the Jets through the first quarter-and-a-half before the Marines used an 18-4 run to lead by 14 at halftime. Mirza, who had 23 points in the first meeting between the teams — a 71-63 Long Beach win on Jan. 9 — scored 10 straight in the opening stanza to put the visitors ahead 14-9.
“Sultan is a really talented kid,” Martin said of Mirza. “We talked about containing him and letting anyone else score, but he still found ways to score.”
Mirza finished the half with 19, however, the Jets couldn’t match the host’s size, speed and chemistry. Long Beach had seven different scorers in a 25-point second quarter that turned the game around for good.
“Our ability to play well together and play smart came with experience and trust the kids have in each other,” Martin said. “They move the ball in practice just like they do in games. The big difference between now and early in the season is they’ve become really good at finding mismatches.”
After an evenly played third quarter, Williams opened the fourth with a pair of treys to get East Meadow within striking distance at 59-51. That’s when Long Beach’s offense, led by Burns, Barwicki and junior Jacob Cochran, found another gear.
The Marines will be seeded No. 5 or 6 in the Class AA playoffs, which begin Feb. 20.