Boys Basketball: East Islip center too much to handle for Riverhead

Brandon Tolliver
GEORGE FAELLA PHOTO | Brandon Tolliver returned for his second game of the season for Riverhead Tuesday after breaking his wrist before the season started. He scored eight points.


Coming into Tuesday’s League III matchup against Riverhead, the East Islip Redmen sank an average of nearly six 3-pointers per game. Their best output was a barrage of 10 treys against Newfield.

Much of that success from deep could be attributed to their inside game, most notably 6-foot-8 center Evan Maxwell, who can easily dwarf the biggest player on an opposing team.

As the defense collapses around Maxwell, it leaves a host of players with great looks on the perimeter.

“You try to take two of their weapons away,” said Riverhead coach John Rossetti. “You try to take a post player and pick one of their shooters and hopefully the other one is not hot.”

Taking away a post player like Maxwell is easier said than done. He torched the Blue Waves for a season-high 31 points at East Islip High School in a 73-59 victory for the Redmen. Nearly all his points came in the paint, where the Blue Waves had no answer for him.

When the game hung in the balance early in the fourth quarter, it was Maxwell who delivered for the Redmen. He converted two three-point plays, including a nice spin move in the post to start the quarter and on a fastbreak down the middle two minutes later. And when the Redmen needed a dagger, they went back to the long ball.

Senior Steven Frost drained his third 3-pointer of the game with 5:08 left in the fourth quarter to push East Islip’s lead to 10. The Blue Waves, who trailed the majority of the game, never got closer than nine the rest of the way.

“They space the floor out nicely,” Rossetti said. “When [Maxwell] defers, they were knocking down shots.”

Riverhead fell to 2-3 in league, making Thursday’s home game against Centereach crucial for a shot at the postseason. A loss would force the Blue Waves (4-7 overall) to have to win four of their final six games in the second half of the league season.

Against the team favored to win the league in East Islip (7-2, 5-1 in league), the Blue Waves fought back a 15-point halftime deficit to make it a three-point game going into the fourth quarter.

After shooting only 20 percent from the field in the first half, the Blue Waves came out on fire in the third quarter.

Markin Austin opened the quarter with two 3-pointers. Jalen Shelby and Ryan Bitzer both followed with 3-pointers of their own in the first 2 1/2 minutes. Riverhead connected on five of its first six shots.

“I wish the second half team would have showed up in the first half,” Rossetti said. “We showed some grit in the second half. And that’s what we have to build off of.”

The Blue Waves ended the quarter with another flurry. Bitzer, who scored a team-high 20 points, drained a 3-pointer from the left corner to make it 47-41. East Islip turned it over and the Blue Waves got the ball back to Bitzer in the same spot. He put up a three at the buzzer and was fouled. He sank all three free throws to make it a three-point game going into the fourth quarter. It was the closest Riverhead had gotten since the end of the first quarter.

East Islip responded and quickly scored the first five points of the fourth quarter for some breathing room. The Redmen finished the fourth quarter shooting 10 of 17 from the field.

The Redmen showed off their transition game, getting out on the break a lot for some easy hoops. As the Blue Waves stepped up their full-court pressure in the second half due to the large deficit, it opened the door for East Islip to get even more opportunities.

“Sometimes you got to take the good with the bad,” Rossetti said. “We needed to create more possessions so we had to go full-court press. But it opened up some extra shots for us.”

The Blue Waves got eight points from Brandon Tolliver, who was playing his second game after coming back from a broken wrist he suffered prior to the season.

Tolliver was expected to be an important part of the rotation before injuring the wrist. While he’s been rusty at times in his first games back, Rossetti said he expects him to back to normal within the next few games.

“I think the team is adjusting a little bit back to having him,” he said. “I like seeing him in a uniform.”

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