For two and a half quarters on Thursday night, the Riverhead Blue Waves were running neck and neck with the East Islip Redmen. But it was the final 12 minutes that will be most remembered, and not too kindly by the Blue Waves.
A game that was tied at 23-23 by halftime, appeared to start to swing Riverhead’s way when the Blue Waves used a layup by Tim Clement, two free throws by Alex Sakhno and a basket by Ben Edmund to take a 31-25 lead. But then things changed in a major way. East Islip proceeded to go on a 20-0 run as home fans in the Riverhead High School gym grew uneasy. Riverhead didn’t score again until Edmund downed a foul shot at 1:13 of the fourth quarter, and by then it was too late. The score was 45-31 when East Islip’s Evan Maxwell capped the spurt with a conventional three-point play.
Second-place East Islip went on to complete a 57-41 victory in the Suffolk County League III game, staying close to the first-place Copiague Eagles and taking a two-game lead over third-place Riverhead as the teams completed the first half of the league season.
“For some reason we just got it together,” East Islip Coach Robert Schwender told reporters after his team’s third straight win. “We answered [Riverhead’s run], which is always a big deal. You’re always hoping in any of these type of games, where both teams are good, you’re going to have to answer some sort of run.”
East Islip (9-2, 6-1), which is one win away from clinching a playoff berth for the ninth time in 10 years, triumphed with the aid of a 2-1-1 trap defense. The defense didn’t create many turnovers, but it held Riverhead to a season-low point total. The Blue Waves shot 37.2 percent from the field, including 1 of 9 from beyond the three-point line (East Islip had seven three-pointers). Riverhead shot 5 for 18 from the field in the second half.
“They just couldn’t get a shot off, so I guess we did a good job being able to defend,” said Schwender.
Although he hardly appeared jubilant afterward, Riverhead Coach John Rossetti also did not sound the alarm bell. He pointed out that his 5-6 team has a 4-3 league record and is on a pace to qualify for the playoffs.
“Four and three in the league at the turn is good,” he said. “We’re on course to be where we want to be.”
“Right now we’re working our way to being the best basketball team that we can be,” he continued. “There are some nights when we play better than others, but I have confidence in this team, trust in this team, and I stand by this team 100 percent.”
Riverhead senior guard Rodney Rollins said: “We’re alright. Four and three, we could be better. We’re trying to make a better effort the second time through the teams. Every single game that we lost is winnable, so all we have to do is pick up the little mental mistakes and possibly go 7 and 0 the next time around.”
A big reason why East Islip was able to turn a close game into a runaway was the play of its big man, Maxwell. The 6-foot-7 junior proved to be a handful, accounting for 16 points and 14 rebounds.
“The kid Evan Maxwell is a special kid,” Schwender said. “He’s had a bunch of 20-point, 20-rebound games.”
Maxwell scored seven points during the 20-0 run, which also featured a pair of three-point shots by Brian Bennett. Bennett ended up with 14 points and Steven Frost had 11 for the Redmen.
“We just have good chemistry,” Maxwell said. “We’ve been playing together for a while now. We don’t care about stats or anything. We just play together.”
Rollins said Maxwell probably touched the ball every single trip he made down the court. “He’s obviously their main focus,” said Rollins.
Riverhead received 13 points from Edmund and 11 from Clement.
“I just think we had a mental breakdown,” Rollins said. “Our third quarters we’re trying to work on. Teams seem to score a lot of points and we seem to have a little of a dry spell in the third quarter. That’s pretty much what happened.”