FLAMING ARROWS 62, BLUE WAVES 57
With each successive stop on defense, the crowd grew louder and louder, waiting for the inevitable big basket from Riverhead that would turn the game in the home team’s favor.
For more than five minutes into the fourth quarter of a non-league game against Sachem East Monday night, the Blue Waves held the Flaming Arrows to two points in the quarter. Riverhead trimmed what had been a 10-point deficit earlier in the half down to four. But with each stop on defense came a missed opportunity on the other end of the court.
And despite hitting just three field goals in the final quarter, Sachem East cruised from the free-throw line during the final two minutes to escape Riverhead with a 62-57 victory.
“We had a sense on the bench that the big shot was coming,” said Riverhead coach John Rossetti. “It was like the ball was slipping out. The ball wasn’t going our way tonight.”
The Blue Waves dropped their sixth straight game after a season-opening win over Bellport. As the league season gets into full swing beginning at the end of this week, the Blue Waves will have little time left to right the ship before postseason aspirations begin to fade.
Riverhead is 0-3 in League III going into Friday’s game against Smithtown East.
“We’re a young team with very few kids that have playing time varsity experience,” Rossetti said. “The scoreboard isn’t showing it, but these kids are getting significantly better. We’re right there. We’re going to be OK.”
Senior point guard Deon Shorter led Riverhead with 17 points, matching his season high set twice before. Sachem East had four players in double figures, led by Ryan Cole’s 17.
The Blue Waves trailed throughout the game, briefly taking a one-point lead at 23-22 in the second quarter. The Flaming Arrows opened the second half on a 11-3 run to open up their biggest lead of the game at 40-30. The Blue Waves got caught twice giving up open looks on 3-pointers and the Arrows — who didn’t shoot particularly well from deep — burnt them on both possessions. They were 2-12 from 3-point range until the back-to-back long balls. Sachem finished the game 4-for-21 from beyond the arc.
Riverhead switched between a zone and man defense during the game. In both sets at times, the Blue Waves lost track of defenders and gave up easy hoops.
“We have some lapses out there and when we go into lapses we get into this rut,” Rossetti said. “Our weak side defense in man-to-man needs help and our on-ball pressure, we need to do a better job of pushing guys to a side. We’re letting them dictate where to go.”
It hasn’t helped in recent games that senior Brandon Tolliver has been slowed by a deep bone bruise on his knee that he suffered in a collision earlier this month. Tolliver had offseason surgery following a torn ACL.
The latest bone bruise has limited his explosiveness.
“He’s hobbling out there and he’s giving it his all,” Rossetti said. “But he’s not the Brandon we’re used to seeing. I give the kid credit. He’s trying to be a trooper.”
Tolliver finished with seven points. Sophomores Tyrese Kerr and Charles Manning both scored nine.
Finding the right rotations has been the challenge early on in the season for Rossetti. He’s already used multiple starting lineups. Center Ethan Greenidge started in Monday’s game, but didn’t see much action in the second half as the Blue Waves tried to better match up against the smaller Arrows.
“They were bringing him out way up high, so it kind of took his size and negated it,” Rossetti said. “So we had to go with a smaller lineup.”
Jeremiah Cheatom came off the bench to kick in 10 points, mostly on second chance buckets, which has been his speciality going back to last season.
Cheatom missed an easy one under the basket about halfway through the fourth quarter that would have cut Sachem’s lead to two. It was just one example of missed opportunities for Riverhead.
Where the Blue Waves really hurt themselves was at the free-throw line. They finished 7 of 16 for 44 percent. Sachem was 12 of 20 for 60 percent.