Nae’jon Ward wasn’t going to be denied his opportunity.
After Greenport’s Jaxan Swann hit a three-pointer to tie the score at 85 with 17.4 seconds left, the Bridgehampton junior guard dribbled past three defenders, before spinning out of a double team, pulling a crossover and hitting a running jumper with 1.3 seconds left in the fourth quarter for the final basket in Bridgehampton’s 87-85 victory in the Suffolk CD championship boys basketball game at Floyd High School on Saturday afternoon.
“The first thing that came to my mind in that moment was my teammates needed me,” Ward said. “Coach always tells me when that time comes up and we need that final shot, I should never give the ball up.”
Ward, who scored 12 of his team-high 31 points in the fourth quarter, said he struggled with last-second shots in the past, but he was determined to block out his previous failures Saturday.
“Not going to lie, I knew I had to take that shot,” Ward said. “And I knew I had it in me.”
“He belongs here,” coach Ron White said. “He belongs in those spotlights. He performs very well under the lights. He doesn’t like when there’s an empty gym.”
Bridgehampton (13-8) fell to Greenport twice during the season by a combined 51 points, surrendering 95.5 points per game. But the Killer Bees wanted to avenge those previous losses in a championship atmosphere.
“We were trying to prove that people shouldn’t sleep on us,” said guard Elijah White, who scored 29 points, including nine in the fourth quarter. “Yeah, we’re a smaller school but we have a core group and we wanted to show our core group can run with any other core group on the Island. Today we showed that.”
After trailing 65-54 entering the fourth quarter, Greenport (19-2) cut Bridgehampton’s lead to one point, led by Ahkee Anderson, who scored 40 points, including 16 in the fourth quarter. But the Killer Bees responded with a 7-0 run, taking a 78-70 lead with 3:17 left in the game.
“You either cower or you embrace it and he embraces the moment,” Greenport coach Ev Corwin said. “He’s just a complete player that way.”
Greenport plays in the Class C Southeast Regional final March 9 at Centereach High School at noon.
Bridgehampton advances to play Center Moriches in the Suffolk BCD final Tuesday at Floyd High School at noon. The Killer Bees begin their run toward a Class D state championship with a subregional matchup March 1 at Center Moriches High School at 5 p.m.
“We’re hungry,” Ron White said. “We have a lot of reasons to play. Every last one of them has their own specific reason as to why they want to come out here and let it all shine and they will do that.”