By MIKE SMITH
When pressed about his team’s knack for pulling out improbable come-from-behind victories, Tuckahoe head coach Al Visconti said the Tigers’ resilience over the last few games has demonstrated two things about his players; their willpower and their complete lack of regard for the well-being of their coach.
On Feb. 24, taking on top-seeded Martin Luther King, the Tigers orchestrated perhaps their finest comeback yet, withstanding a 17-point second quarter deficit to beat MLK 59-57 to advance to the Class C finals.
The semifinal win comes on the heels of another white-knuckler on Feb. 20 as the Tigers beat Children’s Village in the quarterfinals despite trailing by 13 points with three minutes left to play.
On Monday, Visconti joked these types of performances are taking their toll on the longtime coach.
“I don’t think these guys like me very much,” he said. “They’re doing everything they can to raise my blood pressure.”
After a tight first quarter on Monday, MLK went on a 16-0 run to start the second, opening a wide lead on the suddenly ice-cold Tigers. Although Tuckahoe was able to cut away at the lead towards the end of the period, the team entered halftime trailing 28-18 on the scoreboard after giving up a significant advantage on the boards.
MLK freshman Daquean Campbell, who finished with a game-high 29 points, had 20 of those in the first half, with many coming off offensive rebounds.
“We don’t have a lot of length on this squad,” Visconti said. “So a kid like [Campbell], who is so big and strong, we really didn’t have an answer for that.”
At the half, the head coach took his team to task for the rebounding woes.
“Coach was furious,” Tuckahoe guard Max Pearce said. “We were giving up second chance points and, all year, he’d been harping on boxing out and rebounding.”
Visconti’s words did not fall on deaf ears as the Tigers came out in the third with renewed energy, utilizing the full-court press to force turnovers as they climbed back into the game.
In the fourth, big three pointers by Pearce‑who scored 14 of his 20 points in the second half‑and Jamon Murray, who tied the game with a three at 1:03 and hit two more big treys to keep Tuckahoe ahead. When the final whistle blew following a Campbell miss, the team that trailed all game found themselves with a two-point victory and another game at the County Center.
“We just kept shooting,” Murray said. “We’re a clutch team.”
“Everything that we did, all that planning during the regular season, it prepared us for anything,” Pearce said. “We’ve been in this position before and never thought we were out of the game.”
The Tigers will take on Haldane for the Class C championship on Feb. 28. Haldane comes into the game off a 62-57 win over Alexander Hamilton. Although the Tigers have not played Haldane yet this year, Visconti is confident that, even if the shots aren’t falling on Friday, the Tigers will certainly be ready to claim their third title in four years.
“Say what you want about this team, the one thing that you can’t question is their heart, their guts and their intestinal fortitude,” Visconti said. “We’ve got guys that are tough, they’re football champions, so I know they’re going to show up when it matters.”