With its playoff hopes on the line, the Miller Place varsity boys basketball team could not have picked a worse opponent than the Harborfields Tornadoes who came into their senior night a perfect 11-0 in league play.
Although the Panthers jumped out to an early lead, they were unable to sustain it and fell 70-50. The Panthers came out firing on all cylinders, and by the time the first quarter was over held a 15-9 lead.
“We came out strong and did what we needed to do,” coach Brian Sztabnik said. “It was their senior night and this gym was silent, which I think speaks to the effort we put forth. For a senior night for a team that’s undefeated in league play, for us to silence the gym spoke volumes.”
Danny Finta led the Panthers with 10 points, eight of which came in the first half.
“We went to him inside and he got to the foul line and made free throws and did the job for us on the defensive glass,” Sztabnik said.
The crowd wasn’t silent for long though, as Harborfields found its stroke from beyond the arc, hitting five three-pointers en route to a dominant 30-15 second quarter.
The outside shooting forced the Panthers out of their game plan, which the Tornadoes took full advantage of in the second half.
“We played zone and forced them to shoot from the outside,” Sztabnik said of the first quarter. “We had an early lead because we played harder and I thought we out-executed them.”
Things didn’t improve as the third quarter began. Instead of firing away from outside, the Tornadoes wreaked havoc with their size and athleticism. They blew the game open, allowing the Panthers to only score four total points in the quarter.
“They hit a ton of shots from the outside and forced us to go man for the first few minutes of the second half and from there just opened up the game,” Sztabnik said.
Harborfields opened up as much as a 29-point lead in the second half and at 68-39 with five minutes left in the game pulled its starters. The Panthers never gave in, cutting their deficit back to 20 and forcing some of the Tornado starters to return - including McDonald’s All-American Nominee Matt McLeod. McLeod finished the game with 16 points, seven rebounds, and four assists.
It was a tough way for the Panthers to end their season, falling just one game short of making the league playoffs. Sztabnik said Miller Place had an “up and down season,” including wins over Kings Park and Islip, two teams that finished ahead of the Panthers in the standings.
“Your goal every year is to make the postseason,” Sztabnik said. “But there were games we should have taken care of business and we struggled.”