This was an inside job.
John Stathis grabbed his 20th rebound and converted it into what proved to be the winning basket in overtime as host Commack defeated Smithtown West, 59-58, Friday night in a Suffolk AA outbracket game.
"When I don't have position, I either go around my man or I try to power over him," said Stathis, who scored 10 points. "That time, I went around him and fortunately, the ball bounced my way."
That putback came with 22 seconds left in the extra period and the Cougars (12-7) held on to advance to Saturday's game at No. 1 seed Half Hollow Hills West at 1 p.m.
After Stathis' basket, the teams traded empty trips and the Bulls (11-8) got one more opportunity with 5.6 seconds left. Ryan Hickey hurriedly dribbled the length of the court, found the lane crowded and kicked it to the corner. But Tom Whalen's hurried trey was off the mark and Commack had its first playoff victory in six years.
"John does a good job of staying around the basket," Cougars coach Pete Smith said. "That was the difference. We kept them off the boards."
Commack also assigned the 6-5 Arnold to defend 5-10 Hickey (17 points) late in the second half. "I have a lot of length and I thought I could get a hand on some shots," Arnold said. "I made him shoot from way out. Normally you want him to take those but he hit two really long ones. He's a great shooter."
Mike Baiardi (17 points, four treys) took up some of the slack as Smithtown West led 43-38 after three. Arnold's step-through drive capped an 8-0 run that put Commack ahead 46-45 with 4:52 left. But Hickey nailed a three from well beyond the arc and then scored on a backdoor layup to put the Bulls back on top 53-50. Commack's Cameron Kitt sank two free throws and then made a neat lob pass to Arnold on an out-of-bounds play that put the home team ahead 54-53 with 51 seconds left.
Stathis made one of two free throws to open the door and Matt Schultz's only basket on a putback tied it with five seconds left, forcing overtime.
The Bulls scored the first three points of the extra period on a layup by Hickey and a foul shot by Schultz. Connor McQueeney sank two foul shots with 1:36 left to bring Commack to within one. The last act belonged to Stathis.
It was an inside story.
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