ORANGEBURG – If Tappan Zee continues to bring out the best in its opponents, as its coach believes, then Wednesday night posed a serious challenge. Nanuet entered as one of the top challengers in Section 1’s most competitive league and as perhaps the only team with more experience in its lineup.
The Dutchmen met the challenge by relying on two of their staples — defense and rebounding — while waiting for their shots to fall. They eventually did, and Tappan Zee pulled clear of Nanuet 59-46 behind 27 points from senior Robert McWilliams.
“Our program, a lot of people want to get us. They give us their best, their most energetic game,” said McWilliams, whose team had to survive a 3-point shot at the buzzer to beat Pelham by two points Monday. “Tonight was a good one and we responded well to beat them and get the win.”
The Dutchmen (9-1) did so without defensive stopper Ryan Holder, who was out sick. The game plan included Holder guarding Nanuet’s leading scorer, Kevin Mackin, but Tappan Zee coach George Gaine summoned Matt McGivney to his classroom Wednesday for a new assignment.
“I told him, look, I know you haven’t played a ton, but I’m going to throw you out there,” Gaine said. “He took care of business. I thought he did a great job, especially in the first half.”
Player of the game: Rob McWilliams, Tappan Zee. After misfiring at the start, McWilliams heated up in the third quarter and started making some of the wild, well-contested shots only he can make. The senior scored 11 of his points as the Dutchmen took control of the contest in the third quarter by opening up a double-digit lead. He hit five 3-pointers and had six rebounds and four steals.
Turning point: Despite shooting just 23 percent in the first half, Tappan Zee led by five at the break thanks to 12 offensive rebounds. But the game tilted in the home team’s favor in the third quarter when the defense prevented Nanuet from hoisting any open shots. The Golden Knights struggled to keep pace once Tappan Zee’s shots started falling. They finished the second half just 6 for 26 from the field with most of their scoring fueled by a late flurry.
“I thought it was one of our best defensive performances of the season,” Gaine said. “In the past, we haven’t always talked on defense, helped each other on defense like we did tonight.”
Stat line: Kevin Lynch and Kieran Gibson each scored 12 points for Tappan Zee. Lynch also grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds. … The Dutchmen shot just 31 percent, but they made seven 3-pointers and 22 of 30 free throws. They also outrebounded Nanuet 37-25. … Mackin led the Golden Knights with 22 points and had five rebounds, but was limited to 5-of-15 shooting. Terrence Rogers had 12 points and Brian Syracuse and Aedan Lombardo each grabbed five rebounds. … Nanuet hit 15 of 16 from the line.
Quotable: “It’s nice to come along eventually,” said Lynch, a junior who is the only new member of Tappan Zee’s rotation. “Coach has worked so much with me. I’m so appreciative. Everybody on this team, they’ve made me feel like I’ve been playing for years.”