While the featured attraction for Saturday night’s Class A boys basketball quarterfinal featuring top-ranked Nokomis of Newport was Warriors’ freshman sensation Cooper Flagg, the Warriors showed that they are much more than a one-person team.
Flagg did have a triple-double, but while No. 9 Messalonskee opted to defend the 6-foot-7 freshman with a diamond-and-one defense, teammate Madden White made the Eagles pay with 26 points to help the Warriors to a 57-29 victory at the Augusta Civic Center on Saturday night.
“We’re not a one-man team. Anybody who thinks we are, we’re just not,” Nokomis coach Earl Anderson said.
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Nokomis (18-1) secured its 17th consecutive victory and now will face Cony of Augusta (13-6) in Wednesday night’s semifinals. No. 9 Messalonskee ends its season with a 4-16 record.
This was the first high school tournament game for everyone on the Nokomis roster, and players after the game admitted some jitters.
“There were a lot of nerves before the game, a lot of nerves, a lot of pacing,” White said. “But once we got into warmups, once we felt the atmosphere, we were ready to roll.”
That was particularly true of White, a junior forward who came out and scored 19 points during the first half while Messalonskee focused its attention on Flagg.
Flagg’s twin brother Ace added 12 points and six rebounds as the Warriors never trailed in the contest.
“I think that’s how we’ve played all year,” Cooper Flagg said. “We knew what the game plan was going to be for them because they did that against Gardiner [in a Round of 16 victory]. We knew what was going to happen so we just came out and executed like coach wanted us to do and it worked really well.”
And while Messalonskee may have contained Cooper Flagg’s scoring, the Eagles did not limit his overall game as he amassed 13 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists, five blocked shots, several steals and two slam dunks.
“Cooper’s going to get his points, he’s going to have all the flashy stuff, but we have five guys who can score 20 if we need it,” White said.
Aiden Doran and Jacob Love led Messalonskee with six points each as the Nokomis defense that yielded just 40.1 points per game during the regular season allowed the Eagles just 11 field goals.
“The part we were consistently good at tonight was defense,” Anderson said. “Even the shots they made were not easy shots, and I thought our defensive effort and our defensive performance was good all the way through.
“Offensively we were inconsistent. We moved the ball well but we didn’t have great player movement at times, and we didn’t have a great offensive second half. That was disappointing, but the way they were playing us contributed to that, too.”
Sam Dube got the defensive assignment against Cooper Flagg within Messalonskee’s diamond-and-one defense and the Eagles were able to limit his touches for much of the first half.
But the Warriors did not try to force the ball to him — they have other weapons.
Ace Flagg exploited the zone defense early, scoring eight first-quarter points on 3-of-3 shooting from the field.
And while Ace Flagg was working inside the four-person zone, White was shooting over the top, making 7 of 12 first-half shots, including three 3-pointers as Nokomis built a 33-12 lead by intermission.
Cooper Flagg didn’t score until 6:40 remained in the second quarter, a two-handed slam dunk off a lob from Alex Grant after a Flagg steal ignited a fast break.
He finished the half with six points on three field-goal attempts to go with six rebounds, five assists, three blocked shots and three steals as Nokomis built a 33-12 lead.