Twelve years ago, after his team had regained the county Class D title by defeating Greenport 62-55, Carl Johnson, the Bridgehampton High School Killer Bees’ coach, said that the graduation of Maurice Manning had not meant the end of Killer Bee dominance in boys basketball.
And yet . . . and yet it seems hard to believe that Bridgehampton, whose well-known 20-year state championship run ended in 1998, had not, until Monday, won a county title since 2000.
In conversations before the game with this writer, who had brought with him The Star’s March 2, 2000, sports pages, Johnson and his assistant, Joe Zucker, smiled and said they were quite aware of how long it had been. And of course they had also reminded their players that they had lost to Greenport 58-35 in the 2010 title tilt.
The long drought was to end with a 73-50 victory in Suffolk East’s gym at Selden that evening, the same gym in which Manning and his Suffolk Community College teammates had, under Rich Wrase, won national junior college championships in 2003 and ’04.
And yet a Bees victory was by no means assured. “They beat us by 11 at their place early in the season,” Zucker said before the game, “and we beat them by 30 at ours. . . . We have a big height advantage, so if we can get inside I like our chances.”
While they may have lacked height, Greenport’s players did not lack quickness or combativeness, and there was no doubt that they had come to play. Parlaying a diamond-and-two defense to their advantage, the Porters jumped out to a 15-6 lead before Davion Cooper, a tall, slim freshman, traded places with Bump Hemby.
“Carl and I agreed that if they played a junk defense, keying on Caanan [Campbell, Bridgehampton’s senior 6-foot-4-inch high-scoring forward] and Jason [Hopson, Campbell’s junior 6-3 counterpart], we’d send in Davion to give us some more length on offense.”
Cooper, who was to go on to become Bridgehampton’s consensus M.V.P., began to turn things around right away, going on a 7-0 run of his own, with two layups and a 3-pointer, in the period’s final minute.
By the midway point of the second quarter, with 5 more points from Cooper, who continued to sneak in for layups when he wasn’t hitting from the outside, and 4 by Tylik Furman, the team’s aggressive eighth-grade point guard, the Bees had the lead, at 20-19, and the battle was joined.
With two minutes gone in the third, a fastbreak layup by Gavin Dibble wrested the lead back for Greenport, at 36-34, but the Bees, whose taller defenders were to wear their smaller opponents down as the game progressed, poured it on thereafter, with Cooper, Hopson, and Campbell draining 3s and with Furman (two), Campbell, and Cooper chipping in with 2’s during a 17-3 run that treated the Bees to a 51-39 lead as the fourth quarter began.
Cooper finished with a game and career-high 24 points; Hopson and Furman each had 16, and Campbell, 11.
“We knew what he [Cooper] could do,” Johnson said later in talking with sportswriters. “Like any young player, he’s up and down, but when he made that first shot he got confident. He’s got ice in his veins! . . . Davion got it going and then our defense buckled down.”
The Bees will go on the road now. They are to play a regional championship game versus the Rockland-Westchester winner on March 10. (Johnson said he’d scout those counties’ finals.)
The Final Four tournament is to be contested at Glens Falls over the March 16-18 weekend.
To get to the county final, Bridgehampton, which had lost by 10 points at the Ross School on Feb. 13, turned the tables on the Cosmos in a Class D outbracket game Friday.
The star of that 72-62 win was Hopson, who tallied 19 points that day vis a vis the 4 he’d scored at Ross four days before. “He’d rolled his ankle and wasn’t 100 percent in that game at Ross,” Johnson said.
Ross led 36-31 at the half, but the Bees tied it at 38-38 two minutes into the third on a 3-point play by Campbell, after which Hopson canned a 3-pointer, one of four he had that afternoon. Bridgehampton was unheaded after that.