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Pierson’s Late Lead Evaporates in Loss to Stony Brook

February 17, 2015
Luke Meyer hangs for a layup (Photo credit: Newsday)

Luke Meyer hangs for a layup (Photo credit: Newsday)

The following was written by Cailin Riley for the East Hampton Press.

With six minutes remaining in the Suffolk County Class C championship game, out came the vaunted Stony Brook press, the very challenge that the Pierson boys basketball team had seen before, had practiced four days in preparation for, and knew it would have to conquer to oust the defending champs.

Instead, the Whalers watched their season skid to a halt, the press unraveling their hopes of securing their first county title since 2012. With it, the top-seeded Bears turned turnovers into points, allowing them to overcome a six-point deficit and eventually pull away for the 44-39 victory at the William Floyd High School on Monday afternoon.

Stony Brook finished the game with a 14-3 run, which lifted it to the top of Class C for the third straight year. The Bears will try to notch their second consecutive C/D crown when they play Class D champ Bridgehampton (18-1) on Saturday, February 21, back at William Floyd. The game starts at noon.

“[Against the press], I thought we had our guys in the right spot, but we just didn’t make the right decisions,” said Pierson head coach Dan White. “We had a few moments where we sort of freaked out, and it cost us.”

A Robbie Evjen turnaround jump shot in the paint staked the Whalers (11-9) to a 36-30 advantage with 6:16 left on the clock, their largest lead since the opening quarter.

But the Stony Brook pressure then began to reap rewards as the Bears ran off seven straight points, taking a 37-36 lead when an attempted outlet pass was intercepted and turned into a layup.

Evjen answered on the other end, but the Bears’ Luke O’Connor swished the team’s seventh and final three of the night to give Stony Brook the lead for good.

White credited the Bears’ senior guards—Luke Meyer and Rob Colarusso—for spearheading the team’s repeat as champs. Colarusso had 15 of the Bears’ 26 first-half points, and iced the game with a pair of three throws with 11 seconds left.

“Their guards are physical seniors; my guards are talented underclassmen that have never been in this situation,” White said. “There’s something about the aging as a guard and handling the moment late rather than looking for someone else to make the play.

“My guards are phenomenal for their age and their experience,” he continued. “We wouldn’t be here without them. Part of the growing pains is learning how to make plays late.”

The Bears (13-4) needed the late flurry after Evjen dominated the third quarter, whether he was having his way in the paint or finding the open man. He accounted for nine of the Whalers’ 13 points in that frame.

And when he dished to a wide-open Stephen Musnicki in the left corner for a spot-up 18-footer, and the senior knocked it down, Pierson completed a rally that turned a five-point halftime deficit into a five-point advantage heading into the final frame.

“In past games, we couldn’t get it into the post, but this game we got it in a lot more and we had their big man [Jyles Etienne] in foul trouble,” said Evjen, who finished with a game-high 20 points.

That changed in the fourth when Stony Brook placed extra attention on denying Evjen the ball, and Pierson’s offense began to sputter. Evjen scored all five Whaler points in the final quarter and tallied 14 of their 18 second-half points.

Ben Kushner, who netted a team-high 19 points in the Whalers’ outbracket win over Southold last Thursday, February 12, was held scoreless in the final.

“Robbie’s a match-up nightmare,” White said. “He learned to go right, he can make free throws and he has a good first step. We had some decent stuff going that got him looks where he’s comfortable. I thought we were in [good position to win] because they didn’t have an answer for him, except for when we weren’t able get him the ball.”

Eager to avenge two regular-season losses to the Bears, Pierson roared out of the gates early. The Whalers scored the game’s first six points, and when Sean Sloane drilled a three from the left corner, they owned a 10-2 edge with 3:19 left in the quarter.

Stony Brook lashed back with a barrage of threes in the second, sinking four in a three-minute stretch to lead by as many as nine points. Thanks to trifectas by Musnicki and Andrew James in the final 42 seconds before halftime, Pierson trailed by just five at the half, allowing Evjen to pull the Whalers in front in the third.

Still, the Bears prevailed and, as a result, it spelled the end of the careers of four Whaler seniors: Evjen, Kushner, Musnicki and Keith Ellis.

“This team had really good chemistry,” Evjen said. “It wasn’t like in previous years where we circulated around the two or three main players. Everyone worked as a unit this season.”

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