Bridgehampton High School’s boys basketball team, which had only one senior starter and a thin bench, took its coaches and fans on a playoff joy ride that hit the wall in the last half-second of the Class D regional final Friday in the form of a desperation 3-point shot from the top of the key that knifed through the nets and put a dagger in the hard-playing Killer Bees’ hearts.
The stunning 44-42 loss to Martin Luther King Jr. High School stopped the Bees just short of what would have been the storied school’s first trip to Glens Falls in 15 years. Aside from Mount Vernon, Bridgehampton has won more state championships — eight — than any New York high school.
Asked about the heartbreaking endgame, Carl Johnson, Bridgehampton’s coach — the sole coach in New York State to play on and coach championship teams — said, “With 15 seconds left, they called a timeout during which I told our kids that they had a foul to give, and that they should foul when the clock got down to 10 seconds. I was going to call a timeout then and reset our defense to throw Martin Luther King off. But we never fouled . . . kids are kids.”
When play resumed, Martin Luther King’s star, Rajien Griffin, according to Newsday’s account, “fought through a screen to get off a 3 from the top of the key.”
The forced shot hit off the back of the rim and somehow wound up back in Griffin’s hands after it had been tipped by one of his teammates and by a Bridgehampton player as well.
“I saw there were two seconds on the clock,” Griffin, who finished with a game-high 22 points, was to tell sportswriters later. “I had to shoot . . . when it left my hand I had a very good feeling.”
“We played our hearts out,” Johnson said in the stunned aftermath. “It wasn’t in the cards. . . . At some point they’ll realize what a great season we had.”
“I’m still not over it,” Joe Zucker, the well-known artist who is Johnson’s assistant, said Monday. “The kid kept dribbling around. If we’d fouled him, which was the plan, they would have had to inbound the ball from 40 feet away. . . . It was a high-pressure situation. The kid hit a 25-footer. What a way to lose.”
Johnson said he had thought about retiring from coaching before the school year began, but was quickly won over by his hard-working young players, who were led by Jason Hopson, an all-county senior guard-forward who scored 14 points in Friday’s game and 24 points in a convincing 71-55 regional semifinal win over Coleman Catholic on March 6.
Hopson’s chief helpmates during the campaign were two freshmen — a thick-chested 6-footer, Josh Lamison, who plays down low in the hard-nosed tradition of J.P. Harding and Duane White, and Tylik Furman, a quick guard whose father, Charles, played on the 1998 team that routed Hammond and Jasper-Troupsburg in that year’s Final Four. Bridgehampton had no junior varsity team this season.
Marcus Edwards, the former East Hampton High School star, who recently graduated from Babson College with a degree in business administration, went to the Bridgehampton-Coleman game and reported afterward that “Bridgehampton came to play. They won the opening tip and pretty much scored at will, with most of their points coming in the paint. Jason, who controlled the tempo, hit three 3-pointers in the first half. Josh was the go-to man and rebounded very well, and Anajae Lamb took charges and got steals as well as key baskets. Bridgehampton led by as much as 15 points in the first half, which they dominated.”
“They came out in a 2-1-2 defense in the second, and Jason continued to run the offense, though they did better when they forced turnovers and got rebounds. With 1 minute and 38 seconds left to play in the third, Jason banged his knee, and it looked as though he might have injured himself — he was obviously in pain. He went to the sidelines, but returned soon after.”
“Jason started the fourth by hitting a 3, and another 3 by him, with 2:21 left to play, secured the win. He was the game’s dominant player, controlling the tempo, scoring, and rebounding. The crowd fueled them. Its high energy propelled Bridgehampton’s short roster to the victory.”
Lamison and Furman were named to the all-league team. Hopson, who’s reportedly considering a postgrad year at the Berkshire School in Sheffield, Mass., is League VIII’s player of the year. Zucker said of Hopson’s reported postgrad plan, “This is the best thing to come out of this. He’s a great kid and a good player who can handle the ball. He’s been carrying us all year. At prep school he might grow another half-inch and then go on to play in college.”
“I haven’t decided yet,” Johnson said, when asked if he might retire now. “This has been an exciting year. I’ll have to think long and hard about it. As of now, I’m where I was when the season began. They took me and Joe on a good ride!”
With Reporting by Marcus Edwards