It’s been four years since Bridgehampton made the Final Four, and fans are going to have to wait a little bit longer as the Killer Bees fell short in their bid for a state appearance with a 66-60 loss to Marathon at Binghamton University Sunday, March 10.
Elijah White’s three-point basket and a free throw from J.P. Harding pulled the Bees within one, 58-57, with 3:26 left to play, but after a timeout, Marathon’s Diego Castellot muscled his way to the hoop for a score and added a layup after teammate Mason O’Donnell’s free throw to give the Olympians a 63-57 advantage as the clock wound down.
In his final game as a Killer Bee, Harding finished with 28 points and 19 rebounds, coming up with crucial baskets to keep his team in the game. He tied the score on four separate occasions and either pulled the Bees within one or gave them a one-point lead on three others.
“It felt great coming up with those clutch buckets — I was so locked in,” said Harding, who had double-doubles in all but two games this season. “I want to thank all my teammates for setting me up. I just finished.”
The senior scored six points to go along with Nae’Jon Ward’s seven — off a three-pointer, a field goal, and two free throws — to help Bridgehampton (15-10) to a 13-10 to an early lead after one quarter of play.
“We came out and fought hard,” said Ward, who finished with 13 points. “Some calls we didn’t get, and some calls we did. But we executed our sets.”
A Marathon field goal and a three-pointer gave the Olympians a 15-13 lead early in the second period, but Harding’s reverse layup tied the score. A White three-pointer answered a Marathon free throw to put the Bees back on top, 18-16.
“We tried to control the pace of the game,” said White, who also added 13 points. “But they made their possessions long, kept us on defense to slow the game down, and even speeded things up when they wanted to.”
Change Of Plans
Harding said his team’s strategy was to overwhelm Marathon with the Bees’ scramble defense, and prevent the Olympians from shooting threes. But Marathon finished with six of them, half coming from Castellot, who also scored the final seven points of the third quarter on back-to-back shots from beyond the arc and a free throw to give his team a 51-45 lead. Bridgehampton made seven outside shots itself — three from Ward, three from White, and one from senior Nate Depasquale.
The teams were tied 29-29 at the half, and Ward said he was hoping he and Harding could come out in the third completing more pick and rolls, and have White shooting on the wing to mix things up. But what he wasn’t expecting was getting double-teamed in the backcourt.
“That kind of messed us up,” Ward said.
White said the Bees knew their taller guys had speed against the other team’s bigs, so taking advantage of that helped.
“Hats off to Marathon, which had a very strong offense, very patient, and was able to move the ball the way they wanted to,” Bridgehampton head coach Ron White said. “We didn’t impose enough pressure unfortunately, and they did a lot of screens and a lot of dribble handoffs and it caught us off-guard a tad.”
Not About The Wins And Losses
White told his players in the locker room that each time the Bees step out on the court, it’s bigger than basketball.
“These guys are great kids, and I just pray they continue to learn the art of perseverance,” the coach said. “I challenged them. I told them expect for things to go wrong and right, but when things do go wrong, you have to continue to breathe and believe, you have to continue to fight; don’t get too down on yourself, just keep going hard. That’s what it’s all boiled down to.”
Learning and growing is what it’s been about for the team.
“It’s been a mix of emotions. We’ve had so many ups and downs, but in the end, we developed and became more than a team, but a family,” Harding said. “We’ve learned so much about each other and pushed each other to our limits all season long.”
“Being a Killer Bee has meant a lot to me,” he added, pointing to the rich history he shares with his father Javon, who was a teammate of the current head coach on the celebrated teams of the ’90s. The Hardings became the first father-son duo to reach 1000 points when J.P. hit the career milestone earlier this season. “I understand the history here, and where this team came from,” he said. “And to be a part of such a historic program like Bridgehampton’s was amazing.”
The sound of what’s to come
While Bridgehampton loses Harding, Depasquale, Jonny DeGroot, and Jahqur Carr, the Bees return juniors Ward, White, and Will Walker.
“I think these guys graduating have inspired some of the underclassmen to continue to build,” Ron White said. “But it’s not what happens during the season, it’s what happens offseason; it’s important. Getting in shape, staying in shape, looking at the game, watching the game, getting on an AAU team, a summer league, you’ve got to chew on it and breathe it. You can’t wait until November and think you’re going to be good. You have to put in time on the court, off the court, working out when no one is watching to better yourself.”
“We all believed this year was our year, but it didn’t happen the way we planned it,” Elijah White said. “To get here was exciting, but I’m hungry. It’s been a goal of mine my whole life to get to states and win this championship for my town. We have to come back stronger.”
Ward said while all good things must come to an end, he’s learned a lot from this team.
“I had to study and learn my personnel — when were the right times to get them the ball, where their favorite places to shoot are — I’ve learned a lot of different playing styles,” he said. “But next season starts tomorrow, so as of then it’s back to the gym and working on getting better.”
The coach said while there’s some work to do, he’s seen the maturation, and believes his guys will continue on the road of striving to be the best that they can be.
“They showed some heart throughout the year, we got some good wins and some rallies, and throughout the entire season there was growth across the board,” White said. “Us Killer Bees, we’re always buzzing.”