Tyrese Kerr is one of Riverhead’s key returners from last year. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)
John Rossetti witnessed an unusual sight when the Riverhead boys basketball team gathered for its first official practice of the 2014 season last week. For the first time in three years, all the players coming out for the team were on the court.
It’s a familiar Catch-22 for Rossetti at the start of every season. Many of Riverhead’s basketball players also play football in the fall. (more…)
Daniel De Mato photo | Michael Hubbard, joined by his mother Nancy Reyer, was given a team jersey and autographed basketball by the Riverhead boys basketball team at halftime of Thursday’s game against West Islip.
BLUE WAVES 55, LIONS 46
As the crowd inside Riverhead High School rose to its feet, the smile on Michael Hubbard’s face couldn’t have been any wider.
In an emotional halftime ceremony Thursday night, Michael was recognized as an honorary member of the boys basketball team and presented with an autographed basketball and jersey. (more…)
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…)
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.”
DANIEL DE MATO PHOTO | Riverhead senior Deon Shorter scored 17 points in the Blue Waves’ loss to Sachem East Monday.
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.
GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Riverhead senior Markim Austin rises for one-handed dunk Tuesday that put the Blue Waves ahead by seven in the fourth quarter against Smithtown West.
BLUE WAVES 72, BULLS 71
Amid the euphoria of a jubilant Riverhead locker room Tuesday night, coach John Rossetti delivered a simple message to his players.
The job isn’t done yet.
They’ll hang a banner inside the Riverhead High School gym — the Blue Waves made sure of that with a frantic 72-71 victory over Smithtown West — but one more game remains to make it stand alone.
Riverhead clinched at least a share of the League III title with Tuesday’s come-from-behind victory, the first championship since 1997 and first ever as a Class AA school. The Blue Waves, who swept the season series against the Bulls, can clinch the outright league title with a win Thursday at home against North Babylon in the final game of the regular season.
“We’re league champs regardless, but we want to finish this strong,” Rossetti said.
The playoffs may not start for another week, but this game had every bit a playoff atmosphere as both teams came in knowing the league title was on the line. The Blue Waves and Bulls entered with identical 10-2 league records. The winner controlled its own destiny for the league title and both teams played like everything was on the line in a fast-paced, up-and-down game that ultimately came down to the final play of the game.
The Blue Waves (14-3, 11-2) overcame giving up a season-high in points and twice fouling a 3-point shooter in the final 40.5 seconds of the game.
“Heart and desire,” said Riverhead senior Ryan Bitzer, who hit a pair clutch 3-pointers in the fourth quarter. “We wanted it so bad. Sixteen years since the last league championship and we really wanted it.”
A fired-up crowd created an electric atmosphere and senior Markim Austin sent the fans into a frenzy when he threw down a one-handed slam on a fastbreak to give the Blue Waves their largest lead of the game at 68-61 midway through the fourth quarter. “I’ve been trying to get a dunk all season, now I finally got it,” Austin said. The dunk came on the heels of a Bitzer 3-pointer and capped a 19-point turnaround from early in the third quarter.
But the Bulls refused to go quietly.
A couple ill-advised fouls allowed the Bulls (13-4, 10-3) to chip away at Riverhead’s lead and a fastbreak layup off a steal from Michael Bairdi pulled the Bulls to within a point with 2:36 left. The Blue Waves answered right back with a fastbreak layin from Quinn Funn, who was fouled on the play but missed the free throw.
[Video: See the final 11 seconds of the game below]
It ultimately set the stage for a bizarre final 40 seconds with Riverhead clinging to a three-point lead.
Smithtown West guard Ryan Hickey — a superb outside shooter who scored 23 points — was fouled on a 3-pointer and had a chance to tie the game. But he missed all three shots. Austin was fouled on the ensuing Riverhead possession and hit both free throws of a one-and-one.
Back came Hickey, hitting a 3-pointer plus a foul again. This time he made the free throw to trim Riverhead’s lead back to one.
Bitzer said the Blue Waves had fouls to give, so they were trying to be aggressive on defense.
“I thought I fouled him before he shot it,” Bitzer said. “But I guess not. We’re just happy to get the win.”
The Bulls still had life after Bitzer missed the front end of a one-and-one with :24.1 left. William Behrens corralled an offensive rebound for Smithtown with :15.6 left and was fouled going up for a shot. He had two free throws with a chance to give the Bulls a lead but missed them both. The Bulls controlled the rebound and called timeout.
The Blue Waves knew where the ball was going.
“We knew Hickey was going to take the shot so we had to double up and pick him up,” Bitzer said.
The Bulls inbounded into the backcourt to Hickey, who got a running start across halfcourt. He curled right of a high screen from Eric Joseph where he faced a double team as Jeremiah Cheatom swarmed him alongside Bitzer. He managed to elude Cheatom before Austin swooped in front to a draw a charge.
Austin heard the whistle blow and “just looked at the ref hoping it was a charge,” he said.
The Blue Waves got the ball with :2.7 left and Bitzer threw a long outlet pass to junior Brandon Tolliver, who caught the ball and held it as the clock ran out.
“It felt like six minutes,” Rossetti said of the final 40 seconds. “That’s high school basketball at its best.”
The Blue Waves had four players in double figures, led by 20 from Austin. Bitzer had 14 while Cheatom and Tolliver added 13.
Riverhead trailed by 10 at halftime and needed another big third quarter to get back into it. That wasn’t a problem as the Blue Waves outscored Smithtown by eight in the quarter.
It was the 11th straight game Riverhead outscored its opponent in the third quarter. Only two teams have outscored the Blue Waves in the third quarter and those games were both in early December.
“That’s been one our team goals all season,” Rossetti said. “We call it a lockdown third.”
In the past 11 games the Blue Waves are +7.6 in the third quarter, by far their most efficient quarter.