By Mitch Silver
If ever the term “winning ugly” applied to a basketball team, it fit the Rye Garnets last Saturday evening as they won the Mamaroneck Tigers’ 21st Annual Boys’ Basketball Tournament by beating a game Alexander Hamilton five in the final 43-33.
It was the Garnets’ second straight Tigers’ Tourney victory. They defeated the hosts in a double-overtime thriller of a final in 2017, after crushing last year’s Hamilton squad by 25 points in the prelim.
It probably would have been another 25-point margin this time around had the Garnets not missed countless layups and tap-ins around the rim, had three-point specialist A.J. Thompson not gone cold from the arc, and had Rye shot any better than 6 of 15 from the foul line, many of them the front end of one-and-one opportunities. (Only sophomore Quinn Kelly had his shooting boots on, nailing three treys on the way to a team-leading 16 points.)
So how, with all that going against them, did Head Coach John Aguilar’s squad keep its current record unblemished at 12-0 and win the final by double figures? Aguilar was all smiles after the game. “Defense won it for us, as it has all season. This is the best ‘D’ I’ve ever had here in my years of coaching.”
Rye used a trapping half-court and three-quarter press to keep the Red Raiders’ guards off balance, while sometimes retreating into a compact zone that forced the losers to shoot from the outside. When they missed, as they often did, Thompson, Will Tepedino, and Samberg were under the boards, boxing out their men to grab the rebound.
It was all a far cry from the excitement and emotion of the preliminary game a night earlier.
With Samberg the only starter back from last year, the Garnets knew their unbeaten record was in for a major test from their 8-2 hosts. When they found themselves trailing by 10-4 after the first period, they might have panicked. Instead, they kept with the game plan of working the ball inside and out, looking for the open man. That man often turned out to be speedy sophomore Matt Tepedino, who helped Rye tie things up with his shooting at 14-all at the half.
The second half was no contest. Senior A.J. Thompson scored eight of his 12 points in the third quarter, and the young Tepedino added nine of his game-high 16 as they iced things in the fourth for a 53-34 win over their hosts.
Hamilton, which beat Port Chester 75-47 in the other Friday prelim to move to a sparkling 8-1 on the year, proved to be no match for the Garnets in the final.
Rye’s unblemished record came to an end Wednesday, January 17 when the Garnets fell 56-52 to defending league champ Byram Hills and the Bobcats’ 6’6” junior center, Ben Leff, The big man had just three points at halftime but finished with 22. Quinn Kelly had a team-high 14 points for the locals and A.J. Thompson added eight. The teams meet again at Rye on Feb. 2.
The Garnets bounced back big time two nights later by beating a strong Ardsley team, 60-42.
Center A.J. Thompson dominated with 17 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Quinn Kelly (12), Matthew Tepedino (11), and Max Samberg (10) joined him in double figures for Rye. Will Tepedino also had five points, three rebounds and three assists.
Garnet junior Jack Neave (foreground) and A.J. Thompson apply suffocating defense.
Sopohomore Matt Tepedino accepts the tourney MVP award.
Coach Aguilar’s son holds the trophy that’s as big as he is while the team and coaches look on.