BLUE WAVES 58, LIONS 51
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.”