BULLS 67, BLUE WAVES 48
The Riverhead Blue Waves have come light years from their stumbling start to the high school boys basketball season, but even their improved play could not overcome the sting of knowing they were going to miss the playoffs for the first time in several years.
They were eliminated by their 67-48 Suffolk County League III defeat at Smithtown East on Tuesday.
“It’s a depressing feeling right now,” coach John Rossetti said. “You feel bad for the kids. They worked hard the last couple of weeks and responded. It was just a bad night for us.”
Sophomore Tyrese Kerr, who scored 11 points, agreed.
“It’s tough,” he said. “None of us, me, my teammates, my coaches, thought the season would be like this, not making the playoffs.”
The Blue Waves (4-11, 3-8) needed to win their remaining four games to clinch a postseason berth.
“When you’re in a situation like that when you have to win four in a row, you take it one game at a time,” Rossetti said. “We didn’t take care of what we had to do tonight. But we’re going to come back Thursday and play hard. We’re going to finish the season hard. It’s a matter of personal pride here.”
Despite making 13 first-half turnovers, Riverhead made a game of it, trailing by only 32-21 at the intermission. The Blue Waves negated the turnovers with some scintillating shooting from the field, converting 56 percent of their first-half shots (14 of 25) and some gritty offensive rebounding.
“Going into halftime, we had that feeling we could come out and win the game,” said senior Brandon Tolliver, who scored a team-high 13 points. All we had to do is come out and play hard, but it didn’t turn out that way. … We couldn’t get it together in the second half.”
Smithtown East (10-6, 8-3) made sure of that with a 12-0 run in the opening 2 minutes 8 seconds of the third quarter to transform a close game into a comfortable 44-31 lead.
“Our defense was slacking,” Tolliver said.
Every time the Blue Waves seemed ready to make a run, the Bulls padded their lead. Center Ryan Ingarozza scored 5 of his 15 points during the spurt, climaxing the run with a steal he turned into a layup. Ingarozza, who also finished with 8 rebounds, played like a guard on defense, forcing 6 steals and converting half of them into baskets. Dom Savio scored 4 of his 16 points then while Patrick Riccio canned one of his three treys en route to a game-high 18 points.
“When you dig yourself a bigger hole, it’s tough to claw and fight back,” Rossetti said. “Every time we would cut it to nine, they would get with a three-pointer or two and bump it right it back to a double-digit lead. They made some good shots.”
Riverhead still had a hot hand entering the fourth quarter, but lost its magic touch, sinking only 3 of 15 shots from the field, including 1 of 10 from 3-point range.
“They did a good job,” Rossetti said. “They changed it to a match-up zone and we couldn’t get any good looks.”
Regardless of what transpires the rest of the season, Rossetti’s hopes have been buoyed by the play of a relatively young squad. For most of the second half of the season, the Blue Waves have started their sophomores — Charles Manning, Ryun Moore and Kerr.
Rossetti has been encouraged by the play of Kerr.
“He was on the team last year as a freshman and I think that year of being exposed to varsity competition all the time helped him,” the coach said. “He came back from football this year a little bit slow but in the second half of the season he has been probably one of our best players. He’s been a workhorse offensively and defensively.”
Since that 1-8 start, Tolliver said that Riverhead has “come far. We made progress this year, we really did. Starting off on a losing streak, we worked hard in practice. It’s just phenomenal how we banded together and ended up picking up a bond. Our chemistry got better, everything got better.
“We have to keep doing what we’re doing, picking up the intensity, keep our chemistry intact, keep building it.”