Most of the hype surrounding the Nokomis Regional High School boys basketball team coming into the season revolved around flamboyant offense – particularly the slam dunk.
But the Warriors showed in their season opener on Tuesday night that despite being led by a pair of 14-year-old twin freshmen new to the varsity scene they possess a mental toughness and dedication to defense typically found in teams much more experienced.
Sure, there were a handful of dunks by highly touted first-years Cooper and Ace Flagg, but it was fourth-quarter defense that enabled Nokomis to hold off visiting Bangor 53-42.
Bangor tied the game for just the second time since the end of the first quarter when senior guard Keegan Cyr banked in a 3-pointer from the left wing at midcourt to end the third period.
And despite both Flagg twins, Cooper at 6-foot-8 and Ace at 6-7, drawing their four fouls early in the fourth quarter, coach Earl Anderson’s Class A Nokomis club outscored Class AA Bangor 14-3 over the game’s final eight minutes to secure the victory.
“We knew the game wasn’t close to being over,” Cooper Flagg said of Bangor’s game-tying shot.
“That just woke us up even more, and we knew we had to go out, be ourselves and play together and we’d be fine. When it came down to winning time we really held onto the ball, played a lot more patient and waited for opportunities to present themselves. We didn’t try to force anything and we played solid defense.”
Cooper Flagg, ranked among the top freshmen nationally according to numerous publications entering the season, opened the fourth quarter with a deep 3-pointer and a one-hand slam of an offensive rebound.
But he and his twin brother picked up their fourth personal fouls within 13 seconds of each other, leaving Nokomis clinging to a 44-40 lead after Bangor standout Landon Clark made 1 of 2 free throws with 5:03 left.
Both Flaggs played through the peril, with Ace Flagg initially scoring on a putback before Clark drove to keep Bangor within 46-42 with 4:21 to play.
Bangor never scored again.
Another follow-up slam by Cooper Flagg and a layup by Ace Flagg off a dribble penetration by
Cooper Flagg made it 50-42, and three late free throws by sophomore guard Alex Grant provided insurance.
“We had some unfortunate things happen in the third quarter and it ended with that buzzer beater,” Anderson said. “But I was happy that even though it wasn’t our best effort tonight – and I’ve got to give Bangor credit, they’re well coached, a good team, they’re tough – when it came to winning time in the fourth quarter we did what it took to win.”
Ace Flagg finished with a team-high 16 points on 8 of 10 shooting from the field to go with seven rebounds and three blocked shots. Cooper Flagg added 13 points on 6-of-11 shooting along with 14 rebounds, four blocks and four assists and Grant and junior forward Madden White each contributed nine points.
“They’re special,” Bangor coach Brad Libby said of the Flagg twins. “They’ve got a lot of hype but they’ve got great heads on their shoulders. Their parents have done a great job with them and it’s great for Maine high school basketball. I really can’t stress enough that to have that caliber of player playing in Maine and getting noticed around the country, it speaks volumes for our players to be able to play with them.”
Clark, a 6-foot-6 sophomore, paced 1-1 Bangor with 16 points and seven rebounds while Cyr scored 12 points on four 3-pointers.
Bangor controlled the pace for much of the game, holding its own on the backboards and not allowing Nokomis to get out in transition.
Senior forward Max Clark anchored the defensive effort that limited Cooper Flagg to four first-half points as the Rams hung within 24-21 at intermission.
Bangor rallied within two points three times before tying the game at 34-34 on a Max Clark basket with 1:15 left in the third quarter.
Grant answered with a 3-pointer and Cooper Flagg stole an inbounding pass and drove the length of the court for a layup to restore Nokomis to a five-point cushion, but Bangor wasn’t finished, as Landon Clark hit a step-back jumper and then Cyr struck for the 42-foot 3-pointer that left this much-anticipated season opener for the Warriors much in doubt entering its final eight minutes.
“It’s good that we have such competition, because that’s what we’re going to need to get better,” Ace Flagg said of his varsity debut, “and being able to come out on top after it all is just so satisfying.”