As persistent as Port Jefferson proved to be in the early going Tuesday night, so too were Center Moriches' Tyrell Thomas and Maleek Harris. Port Jefferson struck first, but it was the improbable duo who struck back even harder.
Thomas, a freshman, scored 20 points, including a lead-grabbing three-pointer in the third quarter, and Harris, a second- quarter substitution, added 12 points and 13 assists as Center Moriches beat Port Jefferson, 74-62, in a Suffolk League VII boys basketball game.
The contributions neutralized a strong effort from Port Jefferson's Anthony Lanieri III, who finished with 33 points.
Things didn't start great for Center Moriches (4-1, 2-0). The Red Devils missed their first seven shots and went 4-for-14 from the field en route to a 17-9 deficit after the first quarter.
But Center Moriches got it together, outscoring Port Jefferson (3-2, 1-1) by 20 points over the next three quarters.
"Our defense stepped up," Harris said. "We boxed out, we got more rebounds, the intensity and [the new] lineup switched it around."
One of those key changes was, indeed, Harris, who opened up Center Moriches' attack and consistently was able to find Thomas on the perimeter. It certainly paid dividends as Thomas, who doubled his previous game high of 10 points, sank six three-pointers. And give the freshman points for timeliness: his trey with 7:05 left in the third quarter broke a tie at 27, and his next two baskets, one a two-pointer and one a three, gave Center Moriches the lead for good at 38-36.
"We had to get a feel for the game," Thomas said of the slow start. "It feels pretty good , but there's a lot of work to do."
Nuquan Mathis, who finished with 12 points, said that after the first quarter "Coach was saying we couldn't turn it up, so we had to prove him wrong."
Providing something of a theme for this game, he said that his own play amped up after he was dealt a setback. Mathis rolled his ankle in the third quarter, but played on, with six points in the fourth.
The team's perseverance -- and maybe some of his own -- was enough to infuse Mathis with optimism about this young season.
"We're going to take it," Mathis said. "I think we can win it all."