Israel Johnson may be Southampton's fourth-leading scorer, but he is the Mariners' first option . . . on offense and defense.
"He creates everything for us. He's definitely our catalyst,'' coach Herm Lamison said after Johnson scored 26 points, had six assists and made four steals in a 78-48 victory over Malverne Tuesday night in the Class B Long Island championship game at LIU Post. It was the Mariners' second consecutive Long Island title.
"Izzy controlled our offense by getting us in the flow early and he controlled our defense, too,'' Lamison said. "I can let him guard anyone and he'll do the job.''
Johnson, a junior who averages 10.7 points, led a third-quarter explosion after the Mules moved to within 40-34. He made a clever stutter-step move for a driving layup, drew the foul and converted the three-point play. Then he fired an artful cross-court pass from a tough angle to Zach Cummings for a three-pointer, and on the next possession found Cummings alone on the fast break for a layup. Johnson nailed a three-pointer late in the quarter as Southampton built a 55-38 lead after three.
Johnson and Cummings scored 14 of the Mariners' next 16 points as the blitz continued during a 23-point fourth quarter. Cummings finished with 18 points, and Isaiah Johnson and Chad Pike had nine apiece.
Southampton (22-2) advanced to the state regional final against the Section I/IX winner on Saturday at noon at Farmingdale State.
Malverne, which was led by Chris Hackett's 11 points, finished 10-10.
"I just feel I can control the game,'' said Johnson, whose older brother Isaiah leads the team with an 18.3-point average. "My teammates helped me all night. They created plays and I just took what the defense gave me.''
So when the Mules double-teamed Isaiah inside, that opened it up for Israel to slash to the basket or for him and Cummings to get open threes. On several occasions, Israel penetrated and found his brother underneath for easy baskets.
"We have that connection,'' Israel Johnson said, smiling. "I know where he is and he knows where I am. My brother didn't score a lot tonight, but he occupied the defense and made the extra pass.''
There was plenty of sharing in the second half, when Southampton outscored Malverne 42-20 despite the Mules' advantage on the boards.
"Thankfully, they weren't making their shots,'' said Lamison, who was displeased with his team's rebounding but pleased with the overall effort and dominance.
The coach said Israel Johnson's emergence as team leader began late last season.
"He is growing every game,'' Lamison said. "He was injured earlier and that kept his scoring down, but he's our leader and the floor general.''
Johnson enjoyed this victory for reasons beyond the fact that it moved the Mariners to within one win of a trip to Glens Falls.
"It was my great-grandmother's birthday. She died a couple of years ago,'' he said, "but she was close to me and my brother. I'm thinking of her now and it's pretty special.''