With its unobstructed view of the hoop that also allows players to plant their feet firmly on the ground, the free-throw line is the easiest look at the basket in a game.
But those golden chances can also become squandered opportunities that can haunt teams.
That was the case last Wednesday, February 12, for the Eastport South Manor boys basketball team, which was left wondering what might have been if not for its foul-shooting woes.
The 18th-seeded Sharks went just 5-for-17 from the line in the contest, including 2-for-10 in the second half, allowing host Smithtown East to crawl back into the game and ultimately win its Suffolk County Class AA outbracket match against ESM, 49-43.
“We gave the game away by not hitting our free throws,” ESM head coach Chris Carlson said. “You’re not going to win playoff games doing that. If we make our free throws, it puts more pressure on their offense, and it’s a totally different game.”
Even with their troubles at the line, the Sharks (11-8) led for the majority of the game until the three-point shot, a liability for three quarters, helped No. 15 seeded Smithtown East erase an early-fourth-quarter deficit and later take home the win. Shooting over ESM’s zone defense, the Bulls had made just two trifectas over the game’s first 24 minutes, but Casey Saverio and Pat Riccio sank a pair of threes just 30 seconds apart to give Smithtown East a 41-37 lead with about five minutes remaining in the game.
Before it was over, Riccio drilled two more, the latter a devastating top-of-the-key three off an offensive rebound, giving his side a 47-43 advantage with 42 seconds left.
“They hit a few in a row, but before that they weren’t hitting anything,” Carlson said. “You have to give them credit.”
On the ensuing possession, Eastport South Manor missed three three-point attempts of its own. Following a timeout, the Bulls iced the game with a breakaway layup off an inbounds play.
The Bulls advance to the first round of the Suffolk County Class AA bracket and will face second-seeded Deer Park on Friday. For ESM, the loss signified the end of the high school careers for nine seniors, including playoff game starters Denis Sullivan, Chris Goncalves, Mike Cestare and Tom Biasetti.
“In huddles, we use the word ‘family’ all the time, and that’s what it really is,” Carlson said of his squad. “You hate to see these guys go, and they’ll go on to bigger and better things, but the next group comes along and you just have to keep going from there.”
The seniors’ experience showed in the second quarter when a four-minute cold spell gave way to an 11-0 run to end the first half. A steal yielded a breakaway layup for Biasetti with a minute left, and Denis Sullivan (17 points) drove the lane and converted to complete the spurt, which resulted in a 24-19 halftime advantage for the Sharks.
ESM did not trail in the second half until Saverio buried his corner three with 5:35 remaining in the game and Smithtown East never gave the lead back. ESM didn’t go quietly though, scoring six straight points over two minutes to slice the deficit to 44-43, but Riccio’s third three of the fourth quarter all but closed the door on the Sharks.