Prior to Saturday’s non-league boys basketball game at Smithtown West High School, Riverhead coach John Rossetti was saying how much he likes facing a tough opponent. So, did he feel the same way after the Blue Waves suffered a 58-33 defeat in what may have been their biggest test yet in this young season?
“We got value out of sometimes seeing how good teams play and understanding what it takes to get to the next level for a team like ours is a good thing to see,” he said.
Rossetti knows good competition makes teams better, and Smithtown West is more than just a good team. When the Bulls were mentioned, Rossetti used the words “excellent” and “outstanding” to describe them.
Last season Smithtown West, the defending League III champion, went 22-2 and reached the Suffolk County Class AA semifinals.
Still, coach Michael Agostino said the Bulls are “very inexperienced.” Aside from Chris Crespo and Michael Gannon, who have played in a bunch of big games, Agostino said the bulk of the team hasn’t had a lot of varsity playing time. Make no mistake, though, West has talent to go with its size, and that’s a tough combination for any opponent to deal with.
“We’re getting there,” Agostino said. “It’s a work in a progress. We have some pieces but we have a lot of [room for] growth. We really have to improve in a lot of areas, especially defensively and offensive decision-making.”
On Saturday, it was difficult to find fault in any aspect of West’s game as it gave Riverhead a lot to handle. With towering figures like the 6-6 Gannon and 6-3 Connor Bratt, West (3-1) made life difficult for Riverhead (3-2).
“They stopped us from getting to the rim,” said Riverhead guard Cir’rus Davender.
The long reach of the Bulls caused problems, leading to 22 Riverhead turnovers while West had nine.
“We really couldn’t get in the paint a lot,” Riverhead forward Robert Tyre said. “We’d shoot a lot of jump shots that weren’t going in so it brought our confidence down a little bit.”
For the game, Riverhead shot 24.4 percent from the field to West’s 41.4 percent.
West never gave Riverhead a chance to settle in. Gannon (14 points) scored 11 of West’s first 14 points. A running bank shot by Bratt made it 16-2 before the first quarter ended with the score 20-5.
“They were pretty good,” Davender said. “I didn’t think they were going to come out with that type of intensity.”
It wasn’t until a Quashiem Miller layup 2 minutes, 34 seconds into the second quarter when Riverhead finally hit double figures, with West up 22-11.
A three-pointer by Crespo (12 points, seven assists, six steals, four rebounds) at the buzzer ended the first half at 32-17.
West stretched that lead to as many as 28 points when Michael Behrens’ back-door layup off an incisive pass by Ryan Behan capped a 15-0 burst, making it 50-22 in the opening moments of the fourth quarter.
“Nothing fazes them,” Rossetti said. “We tried to go zone. We tried to go man. We tried to trap. Good teams handle stuff like that.”
Eight players scored for Riverhead, none in double figures. Zy’Aire Pittman was Riverhead’s top scorer with seven points.
Was West as good as Tyre thought it would be?
“Yeah,” he said, “actually better than I thought.”
Tyre chalked it up as a learning experience. “Right now we’re in a good place,” he said. “We just got to work better at practice each and every day, get better.”
Rossetti knows that playing strong teams like West can have a positive affect, regardless of the final score. Some good stuff can rub off, like osmosis, although that wasn’t the word Rossetti preferred.
“I wouldn’t say osmosis,” he said. “We got to feel it for real.”
Photo caption: Riverhead’s Cristian Pace looks to inbound the ball against Smithtown West. (Credit: Bob Liepa)