By Gavin Menu; photography by Michael Heller
The Kendall Madison Tip-Off Classic , held at East Hampton High School over the weekend, featured four boys basketball teams—Pierson, East Hampton, Westhampton Beach and Mattituck—playing in honor of one of the great Bonacker athletes of all time.
Madison was a standout football, basketball and track athlete at East Hampton who died in 1995 at the age of 21. His legacy as a scholar-athlete and community leader lives on through a foundation in his name and now in the form of last weekend’s basketball tournament, which benefited the Kendall Madison Foundation and the Kendall Madison Scholarship Fund.
Coincidentally, the last time Pierson beat East Hampton in boys basketball was during Madison’s playing days back in the early ’90s. The drought ended on Friday night, though, as the Whalers escaped with a narrow 62-59 victory.
“I told the kids afterward that it’s a top-5 win for me in this program,” said Pierson head coach Dan White, who has been with the Whalers since 2010, having lost to the Bonackers every season since. “It’s a monkey off my back as a coach.”
The Whalers went on to lose to Mattituck, 67-59, in the championship game on Saturday and East Hampton knocked off Westhampton in the consolation game. The excitement following Friday’s win over their crosstown rival, however, was enough to keep Pierson and its flock of faithful fans celebrating throughout the weekend.
“I think it does a lot for our team,” White said about the win over East Hampton and the tournament in general. “For the JV guys coming up, this was a big time atmosphere.”
Senior Robbie Evjen led the Whalers over East Hampton with 23 points and 15 rebounds. Ben Kushner scored 18 points with five threes and Sean Sloane added 12. The JV players White spoke of, primarily Keith Ellis, Stephen Musnicki and Andrew James, combined to score 12 points.
The serious nail-biting began with 35 seconds to play and Pierson trailing by two points. Whalers guard Sean Sloane attempted a foul to stop the clock, but was instead called for an intentional foul. Following the play, East Hampton’s Kevin Fee was hit with a technical foul and both teams were awarded free throws. Fee missed his two shots and Sloane hit both of his to tie the game at 59.
Then, with less than 20 seconds to play, Sloane drove to the basket and dropped a pass off to senior Evjen under the hoop. After several attempts, Evjen made a layup and was fouled. His free throw gave Pierson a three-point lead with four seconds to play, and after a desperation three by East Hampton’s Kyle McKee bounced off the rim, the Pierson crowd went into a frenzy.
The following night’s game was much more subdued, although Pierson kept things close against Mattituck most of the night. Evjen played only three minutes in the first half because of foul trouble, and was limited to five minutes in the second half before he fouled out in the fourth quarter having scored just six points.
Musnicki led the Whalers with 13 points, while Kushner and James scored 11 points apiece. Sloane finished with 10.
Next up for the Whalers is their League VIII opener at Bridgehampton tomorrow, December 12, at 6 p.m. The team goes on the road again on Monday for a 4:30 p.m. game at Smithtown Christian. The next home game is against Greenport on Wednesday, December 17, at 6:15 p.m.