BLUE WAVES 60, COUGARS 55
When the playoff seedings in boys basketball are unveiled in two weeks, the Riverhead Blue Waves may very well look back at Tuesday’s victory over Centereach and breathe a collective sigh of relief.
The Cougars entered the game seventh in League III, a long way away from the top spot shared between the Blue Waves and Smithtown West. Still, the Blue Waves needed to fight and claw their way back from an eight-point second half deficit to finally put away the Cougars 60-55 at Riverhead High School to remain tied for first.
“Throughout the season you’re always going to have these games that you look back on and you say, ‘Maybe if we didn’t get that one, we wouldn’t be here right now,’ ” said Riverhead coach John Rossetti.
With the number of quality teams spread across Leagues I, II and IV, there might only be one team from League III to crack the top eight seeds and earn a home playoff game for the first round.
With three games left in the regular season — including two huge ones against Smithtown West and North Babylon — the Blue Waves know they have little room for error.
The Blue Waves beat Centereach (4-11, 2-9 League III) by 21 in their first meeting Jan. 3, but it took a huge fourth quarter to pull out a victory this time. The Blue Waves (12-3, 9-2 League III) trailed from early in the second quarter straight through the fourth before finally breaking through when Quinn Funn found a cutting Markim Austin along the baseline for a bucket with 3:09 left in the fourth.
Funn’s bucket gave the Blue Waves a 52-51 lead after they had trailed for the previous 20 minutes.
It was an up-hill climb the whole way, or as Rossetti put it: “Up mountain.”
The Blue Waves were without Jeremiah Cheatom and his rebounding presence down low was sorely missed. Cheatom did not dress for the game and Rossetti declined to specify the reason for his absence. Cheatom’s fate for Thursday’s game has already been decided, but Rossetti declined to say whether he would be in the lineup.
Senior Kwuan Arrington started in place of Cheatom and got off to a quick start with two baskets to open the game. The Blue Waves mixed in a number of players off the bench and the different lineups helped factor into a bevy of turnovers for Riverhead. The Blue Waves coughed the ball up 13 times alone in the second half.
“Everybody had to pull together,” said junior Brandon Tolliver. “Everybody had to help out on the boards. We knew it was going to be rough getting the offensive boards.”
Tolliver, quiet for most of the night, came up huge down the stretch with 10 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter.
Tolliver scored on a fastbreak off an assist from Funn with 2:14 left to push the Blue Waves’ lead to five at 56-51. It capped a 14-2 run and gave the Blue Waves their biggest lead since the opening quarter.
“I just tried to crash the offensive boards and get every rebound I could and always be ready to get the ball when needed,” Tolliver said.
Funn was instrumental in running the offense down the stretch. Rossetti opted to give Funn more of the point guard responsibilities to take some of the pressure off Ryan Bitzer and allow to him to work off the ball.
Funn delivered by cutting through the defense and finding open players.
“He plays hard every game,” Tolliver said. “It turns out we always need him in the end.”
Funn was playing with a heavy heart after the death of Demitri Hampton early Sunday morning. Hampton, a 2010 graduate who played basketball at Riverhead, was friends with Funn, Rossetti said.
Before the game Funn asked Rossetti if there would be a moment of silence in memory of Hampton, which the school did hold.
“I think what Quinn did tonight was a little bit in honor and respect for Demitri’s efforts when he played for us,” Rossetti said. “Demitri was a very gritty, grindy, workhorse type player kind of like Quinn is.”
Funn finished with a season-high 14 points and 5 assists for Riverhead. Austin led all scorers with 17. Freshman Malik Washington chipped in 12 points off the bench.
Riverhead had to overcome a dreadful shooting performance from outside. The Blue Waves shot 1-of-17 from beyond the arc.
In the fourth quarter they only attempted two threes and instead focused on getting to the basket.
“That’s usually what happens when we can’t shoot that well,” Tolliver said. “We try to go the basket, get fouls so we can go to the line.”
Tolliver threw down a two-handed dunk with 1:32 left to help ice the game.
“It felt good,” Tolliver said.
So to did the victory.