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Bears Top St. John’s to Open 100th Season

November 23, 2021
Edwards-Inniss in action last year (PC: Bruce Jeffrey)

The 100th season of Stony Brook boys’ basketball opened with a non-league thriller at St. John the Baptist yesterday evening. The Bears shook off a nine-point third quarter deficit to stun the Cougars, 59-58, and open their Centennial season with a bang.

The Bears signaled early on that this would not be a typical pre-Thanksgiving cupcake game for the Cougars when Gustav Skogsjo scored a tough lefty layup in traffic and Oskar Humpert followed with a two-handed putback dunk on top of an unassuming Johnnie. The Cougars responded with six straight points as the lead changed hands for the first of four times in the frame. The lead swapped on the next three baskets as Skogsjo ended the Cougar run with a 3-pointer, St. John’s scored a fadeaway jumper, and Nick Zemitis answered back with a baseline drive and finish. Skogsjo extended the Bear edge to 12-8 with a deep 3-pointer, but the Cougars closed the frame with a trifecta, leaving the Brook with a 12-11 lead after one.

The Cougars started to heat up in the second frame, dropping in 17 points to take a five-point lead at the break. They began with a 3-pointer on their opening possession, but a Zemitis steal led to an Osazee Alapa layup that knotted the score at 14-14. Skogsjo executed a heads-up play on the ensuing Cougar possession by taking a charge to negate a fastbreak basket. St. John’s retook the lead soon after with a layup, but Lance Piper dropped in a tricky layup in traffic to knot the score again. The Cougars grabbed the next five points, but a fadeaway in the paint and a pair of free throws from Piper kept the Bears within a point. A 7-1 Cougar spurt gave the hosts their largest lead of the game at 28-21, but a Zemitis drive led to an Alapa layup as the Bears pulled within 23-28. The Brook had a chance to chip away further at their deficit, but couldn’t get a shot off on their final possession of the half. Despite losing their early lead, the Bears had to feel good about their first 16 minutes, especially with Humpert having been sidelined for most of the half with early foul trouble.

No matter the score coming out of a halftime break, momentum is always up for grabs in the early moments of the third quarter and the Cougars seized it with a steal and dunk on the Bears’ opening possession. Skogsjo canned his third 3-pointer of the game to answer, but a fastbreak layup and 3-pointer from St. John’s gave the hosts a 35-26 advantage. Skogsjo again provided a needed rebuttal with a step-back jumper, despite a hand in his face, then Caleb Edwards-Inniss found Zemitis for a fastbreak layup to slash the deficit to 30-35. The Cougars responded by sandwiching an Edwards-Inniss free throw with a layup and a deep 3-pointer to again take a nine-point lead at 40-31. In a crucial moment where the Bears needed an answer, once again, their Swedish point guard stepped up.

Skogsjo splashed a 3-pointer from the corner and drew the foul, completing a four-point play that pulled the Brook back within five in a blink. The Johnnies answered with a layup, but Edwards-Inniss scored a double-clutch layup of his own to stay within five points. Zemitis then provided the highlight of the half when he followed a Cougar free throw with a baseline drive that ended in a one-handed slam on top of a surprised Cougar. The SportsCenter Top 10-worthy play brought the bench to its feet and infused the team with some needed energy, and even a little swagger. Both teams traded jabs before Zemitis continued his impressive third quarter with a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 44-48. Humpert followed with an offensive rebound and layup as the Brook got back within a bucket for the first time since midway through the second quarter. Edwards-Inniss then blocked a shot and later stole the ball in the scrap for possession before getting fouled on the ensuing fastbreak. His hit one-of-two free throws to pull within 47-48. A Cougar jumper closed the quarter as the Bears headed to the fourth down 47-50.

The Cougar offense appeared to only be heating up as they dropped in 22 points in the third, but the Blue and White defense shackled them, allowing just eight points over the final eight minutes. They forced a travel on the opening possession and Humpert finished underneath to pull within 49-50. The Bears then engineered the defining play of the final quarter with pure hustle. Humpert extended a possession by jumping out of bounds to save the ball and Zemitis grabbed an offensive rebound off of the ensuing carom. Skogsjo capped the possession with a double-clutch layup to give the Brook the lead for good at 51-50. St. John’s had a golden opportunity to retake the lead, but instead watched a four-point swing unfold as a missed dunk led to a fastbreak layup for Humpert. The Cougars followed with a layup, but a Zemitis step-back, baseline jumper pushed the edge back to 55-52. St. John’s again pulled within a point on a putback, but a Piper drive and layup and a big Edwards-Inniss rebound that led to a Skogsjo finish gave the Brook a 59-54 edge. The battle-tested Cougars refused to go down easily as a jumper and a score with eight second left pulled them back within 58-59. They fouled to extend the game and the Bears missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with three seconds left, but the Cougars’ last second desperation shot fell harmlessly away to give the Brook a huge win over the parochial power.

Skogsjo led the Bears with 21 points while Zemitis (11), Humpert (8), Piper (8), Edwards-Inniss (7), and Alapa (4) rounded out a balanced attack. The Bears next take the floor at home on November 30 in a scrimmage vs. Smithtown West.

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