Spotswood boys’ basketball team looking to reverse struggles

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By Jimmy Allinder

Turnover ratio can sometimes be misleading when measuring a basketball team’s success and, in the case of Spotswood High School’s boys’ team, its shortcomings.

Head coach Steve Mate believes that statistic and his team’s inability to play 32 minutes of defense are why the Chargers are 5-9 overall and 1-4 in the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) Blue Division.

“I don’t know the exact [turnover ratio], but we haven’t done an effective job of protecting the ball, and that has cost us,” Mate said.

Mate also points to opponents scoring “way too many easy baskets” because of his team’s failure to keep them out of the paint. That also goes for the other end of the floor, where the Chargers have been out-rebounded.

“We’re averaging 63 points a game, which isn’t bad, but we’re giving up 66,” the coach said. “That’s not a recipe for success.”

This winter pales in comparison to the four previous campaigns when the Chargers finished with winning records, including 22-6 last year and in 2013-14.

Spotswood’s woes are compounded by a lack of depth and a rotation that is young and small, which have been liabilities in games against taller and more experienced Blue Division opponents. The last time Spotswood suffered through this kind of season was 2010-11 (7-18), but the Chargers turned things around the following winter and finished 18-7.

Injuries and illness have also plagued the Chargers, but Mate isn’t making excuses because everybody has to deal with that, he said.

He certainly isn’t ready to call this season a lost cause.

He points to the third game — a 78-58 victory over a Bishop George Ahr High School team that is much better than its 8-7 record — as an example of what the Chargers can accomplish when they do everything right.

“That [game] stands as our high water mark so far,” Mate said. “We were aggressive on defense and transitioned well to offense the entire contest. If we can get our players to maintain that intensity on a more consistent basis, we’ll win more games.”

Mate also knows that’s easier said than done, especially since the roster is loaded with young players. The lineup includes two seniors, two juniors and a sophomore, with juniors being the first two players off the bench. The lone sophomore, Matt Vento, has become a special player. He leads the team in scoring with 14.1 points per game and has been a ball hawk on defense.

Seniors Andrew Fuzesi and J.T. Vento average 13.7 and 12.1 points, while juniors Abdullah Nieskins (8.9) and Vincent Guardiola (6.9) have played complementary roles.

Much of Spotswood’s past success can be traced to teaching players Mate’s system by limiting their minutes early on. Without overwhelming them with too much too soon, they eventually become fixtures in the whirlwind rotation designed to wear down the opposition.

This year’s record reminds Mate of the 2010-11 season.

“It does,” he said. “But we were able to recover the last time we went through [this]. and I’d like to think we can do it again.”

After 21 seasons on the sidelines, Mate displays the same passion he did his first season, even though a hip replacement two years ago forced him to slow down his quick-stepping pace on the sidelines. But that didn’t last for long and if anything, he is even fierier on the bench. Mate said he has no plans to retire.

“I haven’t thought about it,” he said. “Right now, my focus is on getting things turned around and finishing the season on a positive note.”