03/23/14 12:00pm
03/23/2014 12:00 PM
 Brandon Tolliver is pictured with his mother and father Shanneikqua and Bill Tolliver with Varsity Basketball Coach John Rossetti.

Brandon Tolliver is pictured with his mother and father Shanneikqua and Bill Tolliver with varsity basketball coach John Rossetti. (Credit: Riverhead School District)

Riverhead senior Brandon Tolliver, a four-year varsity veteran who played a pivotal role in the Blue Waves’ league title in 2012-13, will continue his basketball career at SUNY New Paltz.  (more…)

01/28/14 11:18pm
01/28/2014 11:18 PM

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. (more…)

01/14/14 10:29pm
01/14/2014 10:29 PM

BLUE WAVES 58, LIONS 51

The Riverhead High School boys basketball team certainly lived dangerously on Tuesday night.

Every time the Blue Waves grabbed a 10-point lead, West Islip would come charging back to make it close and interesting.

But when push came to shove in the fourth quarter, they withstood a late comeback attempt by the Lions and recorded a 58-51 win in Suffolk County League III action in West Islip.

“We got that 10-point lead, it came down to six, 10, six. We couldn’t get it to 15,” coach John Rossetti said. “To their credit, they knocked down a couple of three-pointers in a row to cut it tight. You know what? We finished them off when we had to.”

Coupled with a 64-30 victory over Centereach last Thursday, the Blue Waves (3-8, 2-5) won back-to-back games for the first time this season as West Islip fell to 1-10, 1-6.

“You now what? We’ll take it,” Rossetti said. “It’s another win, another notch in our belt. It wasn’t our best effort over all, but we’re finding a way to win and that’s an improvement from earlier in the year.

“Give the kids credit. They’ve never been down on themselves. They’re continuing to work. They’re going to continue to push. It’s nice getting the two wins, don’t get me wrong, but this team knows there’s more in them.”

Especially for a young team. The Blue Waves started and finished with three sophomores.

“It’s not about sophomores, it’s about team,” Rossetti said. “There’s a lot of kids who came off the bench who gave us good, quality minutes. That’s what a team’s about.”

Still, the sophomores did make a contribution. Guard/forward Charles Manning led the way with 12 points, adding 7 rebounds, 4 blocked shots and 2 steals. Forward Tyrese Kerr added 7 points and 6 rebounds. Lintell Brown came off the bench to score 9 points.

“He’s fearless,” Rossetti said of Manning. “He’s a tough ball player and he’s long. He’s deceptive.”

When he was asked about his favorite part of the game, Manning replied, “Defense, because defense wins games and often sells tickets.”

Rather than just talk about it, the 6-foot Manning demonstrated it by blocking 6-foot-5 center Bill Hellem’s shot with 1 minute 24 seconds remaining in the third quarter to preserve a 41-31 lead.

“He got up there, one that he took off the rim basically and he got another key one when they were on a two-on-one fast break and he came in and erased another shot,” Rossetti said. “That takes four points off the board. In a close ball game like that, you don’t recognize it early, but you look at it late. They were crucial plays.”

The Blue Waves led for virtually the entire game. They enjoyed a 13-3 advantage early in the second quarter before West Islip whittled it to 15-12 with 2:24 remaining. But the Blue Waves ran off an 9-0 spurt and a 14-4 tear to go into the locker room with a 29-16 lead. Brown had 5 points during that surge, which saw five Riverhead players score.

In the third quarter, West Islip came within 33-29 with 5:10 left before the Blue Waves rattled off 8 straight points — 5 on Deon Shorter’s five free throws en route to his 10-point game.

In the fourth period, the Lions made the visitors sweat a bit again, moving within 49-43 with 4:16 remaining, but the Blue Waves managed to score a couple of key baskets and sink a few foul shots down the stretch, including two by Manning to seal the game with 20 seconds remaining.

“It was pretty frustrating,” senior forward Brandon Tolliver said about Riverhead’s inability to pull away. “But we knew what we had to do defensively to try to help us hold the lead.”

Riverhead had another encouraging performance from Tolliver, who had been slowed down in his recovery from a knee injury with a knock on his left knee. He contributed 10 points, 9 rebounds and 1 blocked shot.

“I’m coming back slowly, but surely,” he said. “I feel better, feel great actually. I’m grabbing more rebounds and I feel that I’m being more active that what I was before the knock-up with my knee.”

11/27/13 8:00pm
11/27/2013 8:00 PM

ROBERT O’ROURK FILE PHOTO | Riverhead senior Brandon Tolliver is fully recovered after undergoing knee surgery in the offseason.

The start of basketball season can always be a little tricky in Riverhead. This year is no different.

As the football team marches into the Long Island championship Friday to face Nassau champion Carey, the basketball team stands by waiting for the cavalry to return.

Practices started last week in Riverhead and the Blue Waves, during an extended try-out period, have been practicing with seven varsity players.

“We’re a little thin,” said Riverhead coach John Rossetti.

The Blue Waves went through this last year as well and it hardly slowed them down. Riverhead won the League III championship, its first since 1997, in a thrilling season that ended with a playoff loss to Longwood.

“We still have some good pieces on the team, so we’re going to be OK,” Rossetti said. “It’s just a matter of taking those pieces and merging them with the other kids from football once they come back and making it a cohesive unit.”

Rossetti admitted the team is probably about five days behind most teams. And that might lead to a slow start to the season.

“The good thing about these kids, they play with each other all the time,” Rossetti said. “They’re familiar with each other that way. It’s a matter of them getting on the same page in terms of defensive schemes and offensive schemes.”

The Blue Waves lost two of their “big three” from last year to graduation. But they do return senior Brandon Tolliver, who had a superb season last year and was a key part of the league championship team.

Tolliver is coming off the most challenging offseason of his young career. In March, while practicing with his AAU team, Tolliver tore his anterior cruciate ligament.

After the practice, Tolliver approached Rossetti and told him his leg hurt. Rossetti told him to ice it, but Tolliver’s instincts told him it was worse.

He underwent an MRI, which revealed he needed surgery.

The silver lining was the injury happened just after basketball season ended, giving Tolliver eight months to rehab for the start of this season.

“I give his parents a lot of credit,” Rossetti said. “They did their research. They got a good doctor. They gave him his workout plan, they brought him to his physical therapist. And he’s going to be a success story.”

The way Tolliver has been playing during the preseason, no one would ever know he underwent surgery, Rossetti said.

“He looks just like his old self,” he said. “He came back in better shape than he’s ever been. He added some muscle mass to his frame. His jump shot is dramatically improved.”

Rossetti said Tolliver will transition this year from a post player to more of a wing. His improved jumper will make him more of a threat from the perimeter.

The Blue Waves get right into their scrimmages Saturday with a game at Mattituck. They’ll also scrimmage East Islip before opening the non-league season on the road at Bellport Dec. 9.

joew@timesreview.com

01/15/13 8:59pm
01/15/2013 8:59 PM

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead junior Brandon Tolliver scored a game-high 20 points Tuesday night at North Babylon.

BULLDOGS 48, BLUE WAVES 44

North Babylon senior Cortland Speight held the ball tightly between his hands as the crowd at North Babylon High School roared to life. Speight stood near the left sideline, far beyond the 3-point line, as the seconds ticked away on the shot clock and the Bulldogs holding a three-point lead on Riverhead.

As the crowd grew restless, urging Speight to make his move, the senior darted toward the middle of the court. He dribbled toward the top of the arc, crossed over his defender and pulled up for a straightaway 3-pointer.

Nothing but net.

“That’s what a senior does,” said North Babylon coach Brendan McCaffrey. “Stepping up like that, hitting that three, it’s crazy.”

“You got to give the kid credit,” said Riverhead coach John Rossetti. “He hadn’t hit one of those all game and he knocks one down.”

Speight’s trey put the finishing touches on a 48-44 League III victory for the Bulldogs Tuesday night in a game that featured the top two teams in the league. North Babylon (6-1 league, 8-3 overall) pulled into a tie for first at the midway point of the league season while handing the Blue Waves their first league loss.

The loss snapped an eight-game win streak for Riverhead (9-2 overall).

An anticipated matchup, the game lived up to the hype as both teams played 32 minutes of tenacious defense. Rossetti said the teams were “mirror images” of each other.

“When you have two quality teams on the court, it comes down to defensive intensity and executing your possessions in the fourth quarter,” Rossetti said. “Both teams demonstrated a defensive intensity. [North Babylon] just executed a little bit better in the fourth quarter.”

The Blue Waves trailed by as many as eight in the first half, but closed out the second quarter strong. They then came out firing in the third with a 14-6 run, which included 3-pointers from Ryan Bitzer and Markim Austin, to take their first lead of the game.

Riverhead appeared to have the momentum during the fourth quarter, but the Blue Waves’ offense stalled down the stretched. Turnovers started to pile up in the fourth and when the Blue Waves got a good look, they couldn’t knock it down.

North Babylon played most of the game in a 3-2 zone before switching to man-to-man in the fourth.

McCaffrey kept the man defense in his back pocket until the game was on the line.

“Man’s our best defense,” he said.

Rossetti said it came down to poor execution more so than the type of defense North Babylon was playing.

“We would rather see man than zone,” he said.

The zone defense, with three players swarming the perimiter, was designed to make it difficult for Riverhead’s shooters to spring free. The Blue Waves still got up 20 3-pointers, but knocked down only three (15 percent). Bitzer was limited to five points.

While the Bulldogs crowded the shooters, it left the middle open and junior Brandon Tolliver stepped up to carry the team offensively. He scored a game-high 20 points, nearly all which came in the paint. He dominated on the glass, grabbing offensive rebounds and going up strong for buckets.

“He had a great game,” Rossetti said. “He was tough defensively, he commanded the boards and was aggressive to the basket.”

“Tolliver just tore it up,” McCaffrey said. “He just killed us inside.”

Tolliver put the Blue Waves up 40-38 with 4:24 left in the fourth on an offensive rebound after two Riverhead misses down low. But after that bucket the offense stalled for Riverhead and North Babylon surged to a 10-2 run.

Jeremiah Cheatom had a big day on the boards for Riverhead as well. He converted an offensive board with 3:16 left to tie the game at 42. The Bulldogs answered on the other end with a bucket from Isiah Moore off an offensive rebound. He hit one of two free throws 30 seconds later to make it a three-point game.

The Blue Waves had plenty of chances down the stretch before Speight rose up for the big 3-pointer.

Still, the Blue Waves had chances. Austin was fouled on a drive to the basket with :27.9 left and could have cut the lead in half. He missed the free throw, but Cheatom came up with the rebound and the Blue Waves called a time-out.

On the ensuing possession Bitzer put a up a quick 3-pointer that missed.

“Tonight, either team could beat anybody,” McCaffrey said. “Just a great game.”

Speight scored a team-high 18 for North Babylon. Chris Coalmon added 11. Austin was the only other Blue Wave in double figures with 11.

“Games like this are only going to make us better,” Rossetti said.

When the two teams meet again at Riverhead High School in the final game of the regular season, the league title may very well be up for grabs.

“I hope so,” McCaffrey said.

joew@timesreview.com