PECONIC CLASSIC FINALS | RIVERHEAD 49, ISLIP 43
Led by a pair of quick guards in Jalyn Brown and Shaniece Allen, who can create havoc up and down the court, the Riverhead Blue Waves came into the season fully expecting strong play from their backcourt.
Three games into the season, which has resulted in two wins, the Blue Waves have found their greatest challenge is matching up down low. The Blue Waves struggled to contain John Glenn center Allison McKenna in their season opener. Saturday afternoon in the finals of the Peconic Classic at Riverhead High School, the Blue Waves faced another tough task in guarding Islip junior Shannon Duer.
The Bucs forward scored a game-high 22 points, and while it wasn’t enough to stop the Blue Waves, who won 49-43, it still left coach Dave Spinella concerned.
“We did what we had to do, but we have got to improve our post defense and rebounding,” he said. “We are really struggling, more than I could ever remember, with big kids. And Shannon Duer is phenomenal. She’s an awesome player.”
While Brown (16 points) and Allen (14 points) were able to do what they do best to help offset the Bucs’ inside presence, it was Melodee Riley who played the key role in swinging the game in Riverhead’s favor.
She scored 14 points and came down with several key rebounds and was awarded the tournament Most Valuable Player award.
“Melodee was able to run the floor and get layups down the other end,” Spinella said. “And she got a bunch of steals and she got a tremendous amount of rebounds. If it wasn’t for her rebounding, we probably wouldn’t have won those two games.”
Riverhead (2-1) opened the tournament Friday with a 45-37 win over Southampton. It was the fifth time in the last nine years the Blue Waves have won the Peconic Classic, Spinella said.
The best way to avoid dealing with an opponents size down low is to force turnovers before the team can set up, Spinella said. But the Bucs did a good job of not giving the ball away, which made it tougher for Riverhead.
The key is also to rebound.
“I always thought that we needed to score so that we could press so that we could score more,” Spinella said. “But it’s really not. We have to rebound first so we can break to score to set up press. If we give teams a lot of shots, we’re going to be in trouble.”
The Blue Waves trailed by four after one quarter, but turned it on in the second with 16 points to take a 25-22 lead into halftime.
Riverhead appeared ready to put the Bucs away when Brown drained a long 3-pointer from the left side early in the fourth quarter that put the Blue Waves ahead 44-32. But the Bucs came fighting back and were able to get several hoops in transition.
Duer scored in the post with 2:55 left to make it a five-point game. But the Bucs didn’t score again.
The Blue Waves, thanks to their guards’ ability to penetrate through the defense, got plenty of chances at the free-throw line. They shot 24 free throws, compared to 14 for Islip. Neither team shot particularly well. Riverhead hit 15 (63 percent) while Islip made only 7 (50 percent).
“We want to get the ball in movement, getting the ball with a head of steam,” Spinella said. “That’s what we’ve been trying to work on, but teams are slowing us down in the zone.”
The Blue Waves have faced some tough competition so far in non-league and the road doesn’t get much easier. The Blue Waves play their next game Saturday against Deer Park, the defending county champion. In between they’ll scrimmage Sachem East and Longwood.