Hanging with Connetquot is a tall order. Literally and figuratively.
For a high school boys basketball team, the Thunderbirds have nice height with the likes of the 6-7 Sean Andersen, 6-6 Emmanual Mondesire, 6-4 Jaden Kealey and 6-2 Taevon Bazemore. And they can all play.
How does a shorter team game plan against that?
“You attack them and challenge them,” said Riverhead coach John Rossetti.
That is just what the Blue Waves did Thursday. Riverhead led for much of the fast-paced Suffolk County League II game, which was played at a high caliber. The Blue Waves did their best to neutralize Connetquot’s height advantage, only to fall short in the end for a 92-88 overtime loss at Riverhead High School.
“It shows that we can go with any team,” said Riverhead senior forward Quashiem Miller, who had 17 points, 13 rebounds, four assists and three blocks. “The confidence is there.”
Rossetti called it a “quality loss against a quality team.”
Add this to Riverhead’s close losses to Mount Sinai and Northport, and the Blue Waves (3-3, 2-2) have lost three games by a total of seven points. “There hasn’t been a night when we haven’t played well,” said Rossetti.
Bazemore (24 points) and Kealey (20 points, 11 rebounds) had four points apiece during an 8-0 burst that put Connetquot (5-1, 3-0) ahead, 89-81, in overtime.
After Riverhead’s Cristian Pace (25 points, 10 assists) drilled his fifth three-pointer of the game and Miller converted a layup off a steal by Zy’Aire Pittman, the Blue Waves closed to within three.
Mondesire (17 points, 11 rebounds) sank a pair of free throws before Pace again cut the Connetquot lead to three with a layup off a feed from Miller.
A free throw by Bazemore with 13 seconds to go made it 92-88.
Two three-point attempts by Riverhead in the dying seconds missed the mark.
“It [stinks] to lose, but intense games like that are always fun,” said Pittman, who scored all of his season-high 19 points in the first half and had five treys and nine assists.
Both teams shot well. Through the first three quarters, Connetquot shot 25-for-47 (53 percent) from the field and Riverhead went 26-for-51 (51 percent).
Pace played a tremendous game, highlighted by a no-look pass to Miller for a layup and a running bank shot with his right hand off the glass from a nice pass by Pittman.
Connetquot, which had trailed since the middle of the first quarter and by as many as 15, worked its way back. Andersen (22 points, nine rebounds) scored nine straight Connetquot points for a 55-54 edge with 1:57 left in the third. Riverhead regained the lead before stubborn Connetquot bounced back again. John O’Connell stuck a three, making it 77-76 Connetquot with 1:24 left in the fourth quarter.
Miller, who entered the game as Riverhead’s top scorer, averaging 19.2 points per game, dropped in a free throw to even it at 77-77 with 1:04 to go in the quarter. Neither team scored again in regulation time, although Riverhead survived a scare. Kealey was fouled while coming down with an offensive rebound, sending him to the line for a one-and-one with four seconds remaining. Following a timeout, he missed the foul shot. Riverhead’s Robert Tyre grabbed the rebound and flipped an outlet pass to Pace, whose heave from beyond the mid-court line struck the ceiling.
On to overtime.
Mondesire had five points and Bazemore added four for Connetquot in the extra four-minute session.
For the game, Riverhead received 15 points and six assists from Albert Daniels.
In the end, though, Riverhead came up short.
Though disappointed in the final result, Rossetti was anything but disappointed in how his team has been playing.
“We had some opportunities to win the game,” he said. “We’re working hard. We’re playing together. They’re much more confident in themselves.”
Said Pittman, “I was proud of the way we played.”
Photo caption: Riverhead senior forward Quashiem Miller (17 points, 13 rebounds, four assists, three blocks) finds himself amid a forest of Connetquot arms, with Sean Andersen blocking his path to the basket. (Credit: Garret Meade)