If the Riverhead Blues Waves fail to reach the Suffolk County Class AA boys basketball playoffs, it won’t be because of a lack of effort.
They put their heart and soul into their latest encounter, a 69-58 loss at League II leader Central Islip on Friday night.
“We wanted this one really bad,” junior forward Robert Tyre said. “We should have had that one.”
While an 11-point defeat hardly sounds like a close encounter, it must be noted that the Blue Waves (9-9, 4-6) had played the Musketeers (15-3, 9-1) toe-to-toe for the entire game until the final four minutes as a controversial play involving forward Quashiem Miller changed the course of the game.
“These kids I’m so proud of them,” Riverhead coach John Rossetti said. “You see the way they played. They played hard. They played together. They stick up for each other. Quashiem got a technical foul sticking up for his friend. You know what? I’ll live with that. I will stand by his back every day of the week. These kids fight tooth and nail because they have a lot of pride in the way they play. And I’m so proud of them.”
Faced with a 41-32 deficit with 5:47 left in the third quarter, the Blue Waves showed their grit against the slick ballhandling Musketeers by equalizing at 46-all at the period buzzer on Tyre’s three-point shot.
After junior guard Cristian Pace (nine points) canned a trey with 5:07 remaining to knot things up at 52-52, Tyre (13 points) and Javal Staton (13 points) tussled under the boards with 3:54 left.
“There was a lot of bickering between me and him throughout the game,” Tyre said. “It just came to an end towards the end of the game. Quashiem stepped in, helped me out as a teammate. We should have come out a little bit different.”
Miller, who had three fouls already, was assessed a personal foul and he and Staton both were slapped with offsetting technical fouls. That meant Miller had fouled out because a technical foul is counted as a personal one.
Without its leading rebounder, Riverhead was never the same.
Staton sank one of two foul shots for a 53-52 edge. The Blue Waves were outscored 17-6 the rest of the way as Central Islip’s Darryan Fuentes tallied all his five points during the stretch.
“It took us out of our rhythm there,” Rossetti said.
“We were on a good pace,” Tyre said. “Once that happened the game slowed down.”
The loss left the Blue Waves with no elbow room in their quest to reach the playoffs. They need to win their two final games — at home against Bay Shore (3-14, 2-7) on Tuesday and at Lindenhurst (5-13, 2-8) next Friday.
“Two games left, two games to play. I trust this team,” Rossetti said. “Look how hard they play. Look how hard they work. There’s enough right there. If they’re going to work hard each day, good things are going to happen to people who work hard.”
Rossetti wasn’t the only one who thought the Blue Waves could pull through.
“We come with a lot of energy, I’m pretty sure we’ll be good,” said senior guard Cir’rus Davender, who scored a team-high 15 points.
Tyre said it was “a big task,” adding that the Blue Waves had to “come out with a lot of intensity, making the right decisions, playing good defense.”
Senior guard Angel Jimenez led the Musketeers with 16 points, six assists and seven steals.