A New Challenge
In the final words spoken before the Bears took the floor last night in the Suffolk Class C Championship, senior captain Brandon Providence perfectly summed up the moment: a youthful challenger was coming for the incumbent king.
Greenport came into the season with high expectations, and for good reason. A formidable front line, coupled with sensational guards who could drive, dish, and shoot, made the Porters an instant favorite to supplant the Bears as the champions of Class C. In the Suffolk Times’ season preview of the Porters, the players were already talking about booking rooms at the State Championship in anticipation of a deep postseason run. As the league season got underway, the Bears were all but forgotten in the rush to coronate the rising power that sliced through the league with a 9-1 record. When the Porters secured the League VIII Championship two weeks ago (thanks in part to the Bears’ victory over Bridgehampton with an injury-depleted roster) the Porters cut down the nets in their gym and spoke about that title being just one step toward winning the State Championship.
The narrative was no longer about an upstart rising to face the Bears, who had dispatched Pierson in the last four Suffolk County Championships, but of a peaceful succession of power. The Porters’ victory was viewed as a foregone conclusion, spearheaded by the dynamic freshman Ahkee Anderson, the League VIII Rookie of the Year and MVP. The Bears? They merely had a few vestiges remaining from their dynastic past. The Porters had beaten them twice in the regular season, including a 27-point thumping on January 11. It was time for the new blood to grab the torch. But in the rush to anoint a new victor, they forgot about the old standard-bearer.
The Bears would make them remember.
Stony Brook’s strategy coming into the game was to neutralize Anderson, Suffolk’s 11th-best scorer at nearly 20 points per game who had burned them for 24 points and 18 points in their two regular season losses to the Porters. They hoped to accomplish this by utilizing a diamond-and-one defense in which one defender would be glued to Anderson wherever he roamed on the 94-foot court while the other four Bears played a zone. The success of the venture would ride on Emil Vaughn who had played most of the season in a back-up role. The idea looked good on paper, how the Bears would execute it remained to be seen. Poise and execution on offense would also be key as the Bears yielded 58 turnovers in their previous two games to the ball-hawking Porters while shooting a paltry 4-of-39 (10.3%) from behind the arc.
In the opening minutes of the game, the Bears served notice that their disruptive defense would not allow the free-wheeling Porters to get into a rhythm. They forced turnovers on the Porter’s first four possessions, and did not allow a Greenport basket until 3:33 remained in the first quarter. Meanwhile, the Brook built an early 6-0 lead thanks to a putback from John Eshirow and two layups from Mac Bohuny. After Anderson finally broke the ice for Greenport, Jordan Fonseca followed with a jumper to cut the Bear lead to 6-4, but Harry Zhu responded with a big 3-pointer, the first of many times the team would absorb a Greenport blow and quickly land one of their own. A Porter layup trimmed the lead back to 9-6, but an Eshirow jumper and a Jyles Etienne layup gave the Brook a 13-6 advantage after one.
The Porters opened the second frame with a score, but Bohuny responded with his first of two 3-pointers to extend the advantage back to 16-8. Greenport scored again at the 7:12 mark, but would be held scoreless until the final seconds of the frame as Etienne blocked three shots in the quarter, James Toney and Providence each grabbed a steal, and Vaughn ramped up his pressure on Anderson. While the defense stymied the dynamic Porters, the offense steadily built on their lead. Providence connected on two free throws and then Bohuny hit a difficult, falling down floater that extended the lead to 20-10. A Greenport fast break layup in the final seconds left the Bears up 20-12 at the half.
At the break the defensive numbers were astonishing as the Bears held the Porters to just 12 points through the first 16 minutes. Greenport’s previous first half low on the season was 19, also yielded by the Brook in the January 27 match-up. They also held the Porters to a mere six points in each of the first two quarters. Coming into the game the Porters had only five quarters out of 80 in which they were held in the single-digits, three of which coming in the fourth quarter of lopsided games. One of those previous quarters came in their January 27 win over the Bears during which they scored eight points in the second quarter. Meanwhile, they’d posted quarters of at least 25 points on 15 occasions, including three separate 34-point outbursts, the most recent of which came in the third quarter of their 83-60 semifinal victory over Pierson. The plan had worked so far and the Bears had slowed the high-octane Porters, but there was still plenty of time for their East End foes to get rolling.
The Bears knew the opening minutes of the second half would be key, and they seized control early. Bohuny opened the scoring with a putback and Providence followed with a corner 3-pointer to give the Bears their biggest lead to that point at 25-12. Greenport did not score until a free throw at the 5:56 mark, but followed with a bucket to cut their deficit back to 10. Three straight points from Bohuny, on a free throw and a bucket, stretched the lead back to 13. Back-to-back scores from the Porters brought their packed stands back to life, but a Vaughn steal, a Bohuny 3-pointer, and an Etienne layup gave the Bears a commanding 33-19 edge. Greenport closed the quarter with a pair of free throws to leave the Bears up 33-21 heading into the fourth. The Porters scored nine points in the third, so of the eight times all season that the Porters were held to single-digit scoring in a quarter, the Bears were responsible for four of them.
Greenport showed mettle despite their youth by scoring the first two baskets of the final frame. Shortly after, a scuffle broke out on the Greenport side as several fans and the shot clock operator got into a verbal altercation. One fan was removed from the game which whipped the Porter fans into a lather. The emotions at Suffolk Community College/Selden were at a fever pitch as the Bears clung to a vanishing eight-point lead. An Etienne free throw pushed the lead back to nine points, but Greenport followed with a second-chance score with 5:13 remaining that carved their deficit to seven, the lowest it had been since early in the second quarter. The Bears needed to stem the rising tide, and Jyles Etienne responded with one of the highlights of the season.
The Bears had the ball out of bounds under the Greenport basket. The Porters’ full court defense had forced the Bears into several recent turnovers, so coach Mike Hickey drew up a play that would bypass Greenport’s pesky guards. Eshirow threw a deep pass over the top of the zone to Etienne who corralled the ball just outside the opposite arc, took a dribble, glided for two steps, and then crushed a two-handed dunk on the head of Greenport’s Julian Swann while drawing a foul.
There was still 5:03 left in the game after Etienne sank his free throw to give the Brook a 37-27 lead, but whatever momentum the Porters built disintegrated after Etienne’s highlight reel dunk. They would get no closer than nine the rest of the way. Greenport trimmed the lead back to 37-28 on a free throw, but Providence scored a transition layup to put the Bears back up 11. Etienne followed with a big block and Bohuny converted two free throws on the other end to extend the lead to 41-28 with 3:20 remaining. After a Greenport bucket, both teams traded three free throws that left the Bears still ahead 44-33 with 1:44 left. On the ensuing possession, Vaughn swiped the ball from Anderson, forcing Greenport to foul in order to stop the clock. Providence converted one-of-two to put the Bears ahead 45-33 with 1:34 left. The Bears still led by 12 with 35.6 left when Providence scored a fastbreak layup and drew the foul to officially ring the death knell for the Porters in the 49-35 victory.
Bohuny, who always shows up in the biggest games, led all scorers with 19 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. Providence scored 15, hitting eight crucial free throws and two huge layups in the final minutes. Etienne (8 points/20 rebounds/5 blocks), Eshirow (6), and Zhu (3) rounded out the scoring. But the MVP of the game did not score a single point. Emil Vaughn’s defensive performance last night will go down in Stony Brook’s crowded basketball lore. His teammates honored him after the game by giving him the championship game ball for his efforts.
Defense Wins Championships
The win extended the Bears’ own Class C record with a fifth straight title. Only three other teams in the 99-year history of Suffolk County basketball have won five straight titles: 1989-93 Bridgehampton (Class D), 2000-05 Amityville (Class A/B), and 2005-2010 Greenport (Class D). During the Bears’ historic run defense has always been their calling card.
- In 2013, they held a dangerous Pierson offense to just five second half points, turning a four-point halftime lead into a 57-27 rout. Pierson’s 27 points was their lowest total of the season.
- In a 62-36 win in 2014, the Bears held Pierson to their second-lowest output of the season (the Bears held them to 34 in a 22-point win during the regular season). Brandon Odom held Pierson’s Forrest Loesch, one of Suffolk’s leading scorers at 21 points per game, to just six points, one of just three times all season he was held to under 10. (Odom also held him to just 4 four points in the last regular season match-up.)
- In 2015, the Bears held Pierson to their lowest output of the season in a 44-39 win. Additionally, Luke Meyer limited Ben Kushner, one of Suffolk’s 3-point leaders with 50 made on the season, to zero points.
- In 2016, the Bears held Pierson nine points below their season average in a 51-44 victory. They yielded just seven points to the Whalers in the third quarter as Bohuny and Etienne combined for five blocks in the frame, including one apiece that went careening off the backboard.
The defensive numbers from yesterday boggle the mind. The Bears held the Porters 37 points under their scoring average of 71.6. Greenport’s previous low score on the season was 49 and they eclipsed 80 on eight occasions with a high of 95. The Bears held Greenport’s top three scorers Anderson (19.4 ppg), Fonseca (11.2 ppg), and Swann (11.1 ppg) to a combined 15 points, 26.7 points below their cumulative average. They held the Porters to zero 3-pointers, the only time all season they’ve been held without a long ball. Greenport came into the game averaging 6.1 threes per game, hitting 10 on three occasions. “Defense wins championships” is one of sports’ biggest cliches, but it has certainly rung true for the Bears during their dynastic reign.
|Team Stats||Stony Brook||Greenport|
|Field Goal %||38.1% (16/42)||28.6% (14/49)|
|3-Point %||33.3% (4/12)||0% (0/12)|
|Free Throw %||54% (13/24)||37% (7/19)|
|Points off Turnovers||20||12|
|Second Chance Points||13||10|
|Points in the Pain||22||22|
The Bears will take the court again tomorrow night at 5:00pm in the Suffolk County Class C/D Championship against Bridgehampton at Suffolk Community College/Brentwood. Win or lose the Bears will continue on in the Class C playoffs, facing the winner of the Section IX/Section I semifinal in the Regional Final on March 11 at Suffolk Community College/Selden.
The Season by the Numbers
- 3 – Consecutive appearances in the Regional Final.
- 5 – Suffolk Class C titles in a row. No other Class C team has done that and only three other teams have won at least five straight in the history of Suffolk County.
- 7 – Total Class C Titles, tied for second all-time with Wyandanch.
- 10 – Appearances in the Suffolk County Championship in the last 11 years.
- 13 – Consecutive winning seasons.
- 17 – Straight playoff appearances, the second-longest current streak in Suffolk County.
- 31 – Wins over Greenport under coach Mike Hickey.