When Babylon’s second-quarter lead reached 16 points, Israel Johnson reached his limit for tolerance. “We knew if we pressured them on defense that they’d turn it over and we could push it,” Southampton’s dynamic point guard said.
So the Mariners pushed it . . . and kept pushing it until they pulled away. Johnson, 6-1 senior, scored 14 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter and also dazzled with eight steals, eight rebounds and nine assists Tuesday night as Southampton defeated Babylon, 77-59 at Suffolk County CC-Brentwood to win its third straight Suffolk Class B championship.
“He’s battle-tested, He’s been starting for 3½ years. He was the League VII MVP and he’s truly a point guard,” Southampton coach Herm Lamison said. “He looks for other people. He’s a big, strong guard who can will himself into the paint.”
And where there was Johnson’s will, there was a way for Southampton to eventually create a 34-point swing. “Defense is always a key for us and after Babylon came out with a good game plan, we had to make some adjustments defensively,” Lamison said. “We mixed it up. Some double-teams, so run-and-jumps, some traps. Thankfully, it worked.”
Southampton (13-6) will play Bridgehampton in the B-CD game on Friday at 3 p.m. at Suffolk CCC-Selden and also advances to a state Class B regional semifinal against the Nassau B champion on March 1 at Suffolk CCC-Selden. Babylon, which got 18 points from Nick Antolini, 14 from K’Sean Reid and 12 from Kenny Rohl, finished 12-7.
Tuesday night’s turnaround began right after Babylon took a 29-13. Gene Scott (16 points) had a layup, Timmy Alejo (11 points, 12 rebounds) converted a putback and Johnson hit a wing three and followed that with a steal and layup to make it 29-22 with 3:01 left in the second quarter. “We just wanted to make a run before halftime,” Johnson said.
He did his part, making two layups, a steal and a nice feed in the final 35 seconds as the Mariners pulled to within 35-31 at the break. The tide had shifted noticeably.
Midway through the third quarter, Chris Pike (10 points) drilled a three and added a free throw and Scott scored on a feed from Johnson off an inbounds set to give Southampton its first lead, 47-45. Scott scored inside again, and Alejo nailed a jumper to complete the 10-0 run that put the Mariners ahead 51-45.
“When we got ahead, it felt like it was over right then,” Johnson said. “We have that killer mentality.”
Johnson was the assassin in the fourth quarter, making sure Babylon wouldn’t rally as he hit three baskets and eight free throws. “When it’s crunch time, I know it, coach knows it and the team knows it,” Johnson said. “I have to take over.”