Nokomis freshman Cooper Flagg, left, (32) is swarmed by Bangor’s defense during a game Tuesday at Nokomis High School in Newport. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

NEWPORT — The third quarter had just ended in the Nokomis boys basketball team’s season opener, and for the first time all night, the people in the gym weren’t thinking about Cooper and Ace Flagg.

Bangor’s Keegan Cyr had hit a buzzer-beater from just beyond halfcourt, tying the game at 39, and as the Rams celebrated the big shot, thoughts in the crowd turned to whether or not the Warriors would even be able to hang on and win the game.

And then the Flagg twins showed everyone in the gym just why the hype is there in the first place.

Cooper and Ace accounted for Nokomis’s next 11 points, giving the Warriors the lead for good in what became a 53-42 victory and capitalizing on their first official opportunity to showcase those raved-about talents on the high school stage.

“They’re special,” Bangor coach Brad Libby said. “It’s great for Maine high school basketball. I really can’t stress that enough, to have those caliber of players playing in Maine that everyone notices around the country.”

Going into last night, I was looking forward to seeing it for myself. I didn’t know what to expect, or what it would look like. I had spent the previous two weeks talking to coaches and former players about Cooper, a nationally regarded prospect, and heard them basically one-up each other with praise for the freshman’s talents, but I didn’t know what that was going to look like in person and in the middle of the game. 

And for three quarters, it was eye-opening. Cooper, the subject of intense defensive pressure whenever he was fed the ball, had only six points, but found a variety of ways to affect the game. He had eight rebounds and five blocks through the three quarters, his 6-7 height and long arms making the battle for balls in the air an unfair fight. On one play he blocked a shot from Bangor’s Landon Clark, then simply wrestled the ball out of the leaping Bangor sophomore’s hands for the rebound.

His unselfishness and vision was on display, as he drove with both hands and used the right and left to zip no-look passes to open teammates.

“The kid’s crazy,” junior Madden White said. “He’s got eyes in the back of his head. He can pass, he can score, he can do just about anything.”

Ace, meanwhile, was the high scorer with 12 points through the three quarters, showing an ability to finish at the basket rarely seen among freshmen players. In one of the game’s first out-of-your-seat moments, he got the ball from Connor Sides after a steal, outran the trailing Bangor players and dunked the ball in transition for a 20-14 lead midway through the second quarter.

So, message received. The Flagg twins could play.

And then the fourth quarter started. And the show really began.

Cooper stayed back on Nokomis’s second position and knocked down a 3-pointer, giving the Warriors the lead at 42-39. On the next series he leapt up for an offensive rebound, waited for the defensive turmoil above him to clear, and then slammed the ball down to a loud ovation from the Warriors fan section.

A few series later, a rebound off a missed Nokomis shot went in the air, and Cooper beat a pair of Bangor players to the ball and just tapped it over to an open Ace underneath for the layup. With 2:45 to go, Cooper gathered the rebound of a Madden White miss and like an NBA forward immediately dunked home the putback, making it 48-42. He grabbed a rebound on the next possession, and then drove towards the free throw stripe before slinging an underhand pass through the defense and to Ace for another open basket.

Nokomis freshman Ace Flagg dunks against Bangor during a boys basketball game Tuesday in Newport. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

It was as if the Flaggs took the glare of the spotlight — close game, TV cameras around the floor, a fan base hungry for highlights — and said “watch this.” The players, though, said that’s not how they view it.

“I don’t think there’s any pressure on me to put on a show,” said Cooper, who finished with 13 points, 14 rebounds and six blocks. “I just know if I go out and play with my team, the highlights will come out of it. The mentality is just to go out there, get everybody involved and play your game.”

As for the pressure of playing in front of fans expecting to see them dazzle and impress, the twins said it’s what they’re used to.

“There weren’t really any new butterflies. We’ve been playing in front of the community and we’ve had the support of everyone since Day 1,” Cooper said. “It was pretty easy to come out and play. It’s what I’ve always wanted.”

“It can get to you, but our whole thing is ‘Block out the noise,’ ” said Ace, who finished with a team-high 16 points. “It’s all noise. Everything, all the fans, everyone, it’s just noise. You’ve just got to block it out.”

The hype will likely cool as the season goes on, and the novelty of what’s happening at Nokomis wears off. But it won’t go away.

First, everyone was talking about what the Flagg twins could do. And now, they’re showing just what all the was about.

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