BULLS 77, BLUE WAVES 67
It’s hard enough to win a basketball game when a team’s opponent shoots twice as many free throws. And when the opponent knocks those shots down at an 83 percent clip, it’s nearly impossible.
The Riverhead Blue Waves couldn’t overcome a huge discrepancy at the line Tuesday afternoon against Smithtown West, falling 77-67 in their League III opener at Smithtown West High School. Smithtown West went to the line 36 times and converted 30. Riverhead, meanwhile, shot 9 of 15 from the stripe. Fourteen of Smithtown’s free throw attempts came in the final 2:16.
Riverhead coach John Rossetti wasn’t pleased afterward with the officiating.
“I’m pointing the finger today, flat out,” he said.
The Blue Waves (0-1 League III, 2-3 overall) got off to a fast start as they built an early 10-point lead in the opening quarter. But the Bulls kept chipping away, starting from the line. The Blue Waves limited the Bulls to three field goals in the first quarter, but the Bulls got eight points from the line to stay within striking distance.
Once the Bulls (1-1 League III, 3-2) got going offensively in the second quarter, the Blue Waves cooled off and all the momentum switched sides.
“When you have officials making calls consistently inconsistent, it takes you out of the flow a little bit,” Rossetti said.
After falling behind 36-31 at halftime, the Blue Waves came out rejuvenated in the third quarter. They opened the second half on an 8-0 run, capped by an offensive rebound putback from junior Markin Austin. But the Bulls responded with an 11-2 run of their own, which included a pair of 3-pointers, one by Eric Joseph (24 points) and another from Mike Baiardi.
The Blue Waves had no answer as the offense stalled. Over the next six minutes after Austin’s basket, the Blue Waves had one field goal.
“They absorbed our punches well tonight,” Rossetti said. “They handled them and they came back and threw two punches and we didn’t absorb their punches as well.”
The Bulls quickly put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter, knocking down their first five shots from the field. Junior Ryan Hickey delivered a beautiful pass down low to Joseph for an easy hoop that made it 61-48, equaling the largest lead of the game for Smithtown.
Even after Jalen Shelby drained a 3-pointer on the next possession with 4:21 left to give Riverhead some life, Smithtown immediately answered with a long ball from Baiardi.
The Bulls like to shoot the three, but didn’t connect on a high percentage against Riverhead. The Bulls finished the game 5 of 23 for 22 percent. The Blue Waves shot 8 of 26 for 31 percent. Ten of those 3-pointers came in the fourth quarter as they tried climbing back into the game.
Smithtown handled the defensive pressure from Riverhead well and kept the turnovers to a reasonable number.
“They have a good guard,” Rossetti said. [Hickey] is a good ball player.”
Hickey finished with 17 points for Smithtown.
Ryan Bitzer led Riverhead with 22 points. He got off to an electric start, draining three shots from beyond the arc in the first quarter. Three other Blue Waves finished with double digits. Shelby scored 14, Tim Clement added 11 and Reggie Moore scored 10.
Smithtown West was one team the Blue Waves counted on beating in their league season. So an early loss puts them in a tough spot right away going into the rest of league play, which picks up again in the new year.
“Tonight’s one we counted on, so now we got to go back and steal one,” Rossetti said.