NEWBURGH, N.Y. — Israel Johnson’s final game for Southampton didn’t go as he’d planned, but the 6-1 senior guard had no problem putting the big picture in sharp focus.
“We are champions for life,” Johnson said after his brilliant 36-point performance Saturday in Southampton’s 79-65 loss to Marlboro at Mount St. Mary College in the state Class B regional final.
“My 3 ½ years on varsity have been the greatest of my life,” an emotional Johnson said outside the Mariners’ locker room, “because of the bond I formed with my coaches and teammates. It’s not just about basketball, either. The coaches were like father figures to us and taught us about life and about how to act in certain situations.”
Johnson certainly showed some action in many situations on the court. He scored 25 points in the second half, trying to rally Southampton against long odds. The Mariners were without starting forward Micah Snowden, a double-double performer, who suffered what coach Herm Lamison said was a “head contusion with concussion-like symptoms” in their regional semifinal victory last Tuesday. They were also playing a virtual road game as the Dukes from nearby Ulster County jammed the gym with hundreds of fans and a steady stream of noise. Only a smattering of Southampton fans made the long drive.
Still, the Mariners overcame those obstacles plus a 9-0 Marlboro burst to start the game, to eventually rally from a 24-point third-quarter deficit and get within 10 with 2:05 left in the fourth quarter. But forced to frenetically trap against a team that made nine threes and hit 19 of 25 free throws was just too much. Xavier Oliver, one of five Dukes who scored in double figures, nailed a three from the corner to make it 72-59 and the Mariners’ victory ship had sailed. Chris Pike added 14 points for Southampton.
“They were a good team and they were on their game,” Lamison said. “For every run we made, they had an answer. It’s the sign of a good team to get hit and then hit back. They shoot threes and they made them today. We can play from behind, but we can’t play from that far behind against a good team.”
Lamison was pleased that Johnson, whose older brother Isaiah Johnson starred on last season’s Long Island Class B championship team, was able to put on one final show in a Southampton uniform, including making 16 of 20 free throws because of his uncanny ability to get into the lane.
“Izzy is an underrated player,” Lamison said. “He can get to the basket whenever he wants. He can hit the mid-range jumper. He looks for his teammates and he does whatever it takes for us to win. He’ll get in there and get rebounds, too. He’s a class kid.”
Then Lamison paused, as if trying to find the perfect description to sum up Johnson’s senior year. The coach came up with a winner. “The truth is,” Lamison said forcefully, “we would not have been here today without him.”