Thirty-seven days since the start of basketball season and the Killer Bees finally got to enjoy the comforts of home.
And what a home-court advantage the Beehive provides.
Playing for the first time this season in front of a raucous home crowd, Bridgehampton senior J.P. Harding erupted for 36 points and 27 rebounds to lead Bridgehampton past rival Pierson on Tuesday.
The 77-55 victory moved the Killer Bees (3-1) past Pierson in the League VII standings as they now trail only unbeaten Greenport in the chase for a league title. The Porters are the overwhelming favorites to win League VII and have legitimate state title hopes in Class C. They beat Bridgehampton, a Class D school, 80-61, on January 4, which made Tuesday’s home cooking that much more fulfilling.
“They’re starting to believe a little bit. They’re starting to understand it’s not knockout blows — it’s collective cohesiveness, pass the ball, relax yourself,” Killer Bees coach Ron White said after the win over Pierson, which dropped to 2-2 in league action and 5-6 overall.
The Whalers played most of the game without the services of their best player as junior Henry Brooks was in foul trouble all night. After scoring five early points, Brooks committed his third foul late in the first quarter and sat out the entire second quarter and much of the third. With guards Cooper Schiavoni and Peter Schaefer playing well, and with an added spark from freshman Wilson Bennett, who made his varsity debut, Pierson kept the game close and trailed by just six at halftime.
“I think we held our own that first go-around,” Pierson head coach Hank Katz said afterwards. “[Brooks] sat out the whole second quarter and we played well enough to at least stay close.”
Bridgehampton, and Harding in particular, exploded out of the break and led by 15 in a hurry. Katz said the collapse had nothing to do with Bridgehampton’s tiny court, traditionally a challenge for all visiting teams, and little to do with the absence of Brooks. “They just outplayed us,” he said simply.
Despite valiant effort in the paint by Bennett, who finished with eight points in his first varsity game, Harding ran roughshod through the Whalers’ defense. He scored 17 points in the third quarter alone, and helped set up open looks for guards Elijah White and Nae’Jon Ward on the perimeter.
Bridgehampton’s starting backcourt finished with 24 points combined.
“Teams are crazy enough to go into a zone and they start trapping our guards,” coach White said. “Our guards are becoming smart, pick the ball up and push it into the middle. J.P. is right where he needs to be. It’s wide open every time.”
Brooks scored six fourth-quarter points when the game was already out of reach to finish with 11 and Schiavoni had 10. Bennett, who has played this season on Pierson’s promising junior varsity team, was a pleasant surprise for Pierson on Tuesday, and is expected to be a central figure in the years to come.
“He did great, beyond expectations,” Katz said, noting that Bridgehampton and the Whalers’ next opponent, Smithtown Christian, don’t have JV teams. “We wanted to bring him up and give him an opportunity. If he’s going to contribute like this we might have to make some decisions” between varsity and JV.
Harding had 22 points against Greenport, White had 18 and Ward had 14, but the Porters’ own big three of Ahkee Anderson and Jaxan and Jude Swan combined for 67 points and had more support from their bench. Harding, White and Ward got plenty of good looks, but finished 28-for-60 from the floor.
“We had good shots,” coach White said. “I’m very confident. We’re a little battle tested. We just have to continue to remain hungry and continue to build and learn.”