In the dog-eat-dog world of Suffolk County high school boys basketball, teams look for wins where they can get them. A win surely was on the minds of the Riverhead Blue Waves going into Thursday night’s game. The Smithtown West Bulls, however, had other ideas.
After opening the season with seven straight losses, Smithtown West picked up its second win a row — at Riverhead’s expense.
Smithtown West made 15 of 20 free throws in the fourth quarter to secure a 55-50 triumph at Riverhead High School. So much for win-loss records, which can be deceptive sometimes.
“You can never take a team lightly, no matter what their record is,” Riverhead junior forward Tim Clement said. “They come with intensity, they can win the game.”
Smithtown West sure brought the intensity. After it took 1 minute 56 seconds before either side got on the scoreboard, Riverhead built a 20-8 lead with the aid of six points apiece from Ben Edmund and Clement. Smithtown West made only two of its first 11 field-goal attempts.
No matter. The Bulls were undeterred. Perhaps they learned a lesson from their painful experience against the Newfield Wolverines on Jan. 6. The Bulls led by 21 points going into the fourth quarter of that game and lost in overtime by three points.
“We won’t lose a game like that again,” Smithtown West junior guard James Pannell said. “We have to keep fighting to the end.”
That is what the Bulls did. Before fouling out with 2:46 remaining, Eric Joseph scored 16 points for the Bulls, who brought their League III record to 2-3 and gave themselves a brighter outlook on the season. Also reaching double figures for Smithtown West were Ryan Hickey with 13 points and Matt Schultz with 11. Schultz also grabbed nine rebounds.
“Big win, big win,” Smithtown West Coach Mike Massa told reporters. “It puts us right back into the playoff picture. It gives the kids confidence to believe in what we’re doing, and that if we keep working hard every day, good things will come, and I kept telling them that, and we have been getting better. But the record didn’t show that early in the season. But little by little, they’re climbing up the hill. Like I told them, it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon, and the season is a long journey.”
Smithtown West closed out the first half on a 10-0 run to cut Riverhead’s lead to three points at 22-19. Then the Bulls opened the third quarter with three straight baskets by Joseph, Hickey (a three-pointer) and Schultz to take the lead for good. Riverhead did tie the score at 42-42 on a foul-line jumper by Brandon Tolliver, but Smithtown West surged ahead again.
“We [expended] so much energy to tie it up that we exhaled,” Riverhead Coach John Rossetti said. “As we exhaled, we let them score five straight points. We went from a tied ballgame to down by five pretty quickly.”
By mixing up defenses, the Bulls mixed up the Blue Waves, who shot 1 of 18 from beyond the three-point line.
“Suffolk County basketball for us is going to be a war every night,” Massa said. “We’re not going to blow anybody out, but when we play, we want to make sure they know they’re playing against a formidable opponent and we’re never going to roll over. We’ll play 32 minutes, end to end, no matter what the score is, no matter what the situation is.”
Thanks to its free throws, Smithtown West won the game despite not making a field goal in the fourth quarter and attempting only two.
Edmund scored a game-high 20 points, Clement contributed 12 points and 16 rebounds, and Riverhead fell short. Its record dropped to 4-5, 3-2 in the league.
So, what does this loss do to Riverhead?
“Tonight they produced, and we didn’t get the job done,” said Rossetti, whose team started the day tied with the East Islip Redmen for second place. “We’re still right there in the mix. Is this something that’s going to change the season? No, it’s not going to change the season.”
Afterwards, Clement was asked what bothered him the most about the night.
He simply replied, “We should have won the game.”