When League III teams Riverhead and North Babylon play, there is a lot of blue and white on the basketball court, a reflection of their shared school colors. But it was the Blue Waves who were really blue following their playoff loss on Thursday.
North Babylon, with the aid of its standout senior, Tyree Grimsley, broke open a close game with a 16-0 run that propelled the 13th-seeded Bulldogs on to a 56-41 victory in a Suffolk County Class AA Tournament outbracket game. It was the third meeting this season between the teams, with the home team winning each time.
“When you’re done, there’s a finite end to this,” Riverhead coach John Rossetti said after emerging from the locker room afterward. “It’s over.”
Rossetti looked fired up a couple of hours earlier, slapping his hands together following the national anthem.
No. 20 Riverhead (8-11) never trailed through the first three quarters, but was unable to put North Babylon (10-6) away. The Blue Waves never led by more than seven points and got into early foul trouble.
Then North Babylon seized control of the game, with no small help from the 6-foot-2 Grimsley, who North Babylon coach Brendan McCaffrey considers to be the best player in League III.
Over the course of 2 minutes 27 seconds, North Babylon strung together 16 unanswered points. Ten of them came from Grimsley, who capped the spurt with an exclamation mark — a one-handed dunk that fired up the crowd. That made the score 45-34 with 5:02 left in the game. That run also featured three-pointers by Jared Zeigler and Melvin Nieves. It was too much of a deficit for Riverhead to recover from.
“They started hitting three-pointers,” Riverhead forward Steven Asconia said. “I guess it sucked the life out of us.”
Grimsley did his share of damage, too, collecting 27 points, 18 rebounds, five steals and one assist.
“He dropped 42 against Huntington, against Kenny Charles, and he doesn’t shoot threes,” McCaffrey said of Grimsley, who averages 23 points per game.
It was Zeigler’s trey eight seconds into the fourth quarter that gave North Babylon its first lead at 36-34. The game slipped away from Riverhead from there.
“They got hot at the right time,” Rossetti said of the Bulldogs.
Billy Muller, a 6-5 sophomore, also gave Riverhead trouble with his size. The 15-year-old Muller grabbed 13 rebounds to go with nine points, four assists and two blocks.
Riverhead was whistled for 20 fouls, including five against senior Tyrese Kerr, who fouled out with 2:58 to go.
Asconia (11 points, 12 rebounds, four blocks) and Malik Washington (11 points) were Riverhead’s top scorers.
North Babylon, which reached the playoffs for the 12th straight year, will face another League III team, league champion Smithtown West (14-4), the No. 4 seed, in a Round of 16 game on Saturday.
Riverhead has endured its share of struggles this season. Earlier in the season, the Blue Waves suffered a five-game losing streak. Then they lost five of their last six games heading into the playoffs.
Kerr said, “We had our ups, we had our downs, but we knew we were better than what our record showed.”
Asked what he will remember most about this season, Kerr answered, “Unfortunately, what I will remember the most is losing this game because it was my last.”
Photo caption: Riverhead’s 6-foot-2 senior Tyrese Kerr attempting a shot during the first half of Thursday’s playoff game in North Babylon. (Credit: Daniel De Mato)
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Sharron Trent was one of Riverhead’s top scorers in the game with 11 points. Trent scored six points. Malik Washington had 11 points.