Longwood's Jalen Ryanscores in the third quarter against Brentwood during...

Longwood's Jalen Ryanscores in the third quarter against Brentwood during a Suffolk boys basketball game on Friday, Feb. 9, 2018, at Longwood. Credit: Bob Sorensen

They are known as the Hoop Troop, eight spirited male students who come shirtless to every Longwood boys basketball game, home and away, each displaying a large green letter emblazoned across the front of his body as they combine to spell out the school name. But as game time approached Friday night, the “W’’ was nowhere to be found. Fortunately, the missing letter / student showed up before the opening tip.

How fitting, then, that the host Lions got the “W.”

Longwood used a swarming, opportunistic defense and balanced offense to defeat Brentwood, 56-49, before a large, noisy crowd and forge a three-way tie for the Suffolk I regular-season title. Jalen Ryan scored 15 points and Emmanuel Rancy added 11 points and 10 rebounds as the Lions, Brentwood and Ward Melville finished 11-3. They are considered tri-champions and will await their seeds for the upcoming Class AA playoffs.

“It was one of our goals before the season, to win the league,” Ryan said of the first Lions’ share of a title since 2011.

They did it by holding Brentwood star center Zed Key without a point until 2:17 remained in the third quarter and limiting him to four points. “He is a great player and we had to give him different looks,” Longwood coach Patrick Hayes said.

Jarenel Rancy, Emmanuel’s brother, and Ryan Percer were the primary defenders, fronting Key whenever he got the ball in the paint. There was plenty of help, too.

“It was a team effort on defense,” Ryan said. “We played defense with emotion all night and it showed.”

The Lions took a 26-15 lead midway through the second quarter on a 9-0 burst sparked by several baskets off forced turnovers. Jordan Manderson (12 points, four treys) hit a three-pointer from the corner, Isaiah Whitty took a bounce pass from Emmanuel Rancy and converted a layup and Rancy returned the favor by hitting a streaking Whitty for another basket. Then came the roof-rocker: a behind-the-back pass from Whitty to Ryan for an easy lay-in.

“Heavy, intense defense and pushing it in transition. That’s what we do,” Hayes said. That formula produced the Lions’ biggest lead at 39-27 late in the third quarter. But Brentwood dug in and made it very tense down the stretch.

The Indians rallied behind point guard Kenny Lazo and forward Bryce Harris, who scored 15 points each, and eight points off the bench by Romello Wright to trim the deficit to four points three times in the fourth quarter. But Longwood had answers. Ryan made a critical three-point play, Emmanuel Rancy scored in traffic and Manderson hit a dagger from downtown to send the Hoop Troop home happy. “They’re part of the team,” Hayes said. And they made it a letter-perfect night.

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