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Boys Basketball: Hills East pulls away late against Riverhead

The game goes down in the record book as a capital L, but the Riverhead boys basketball team hopes to turn Monday’s road loss at Half Hollow Hills East into something positive down its stretch run for the playoffs.

For three quarters the Blue Waves made the first-place Thunderbirds sweat before the hosts pulled away to a 75-65 victory in a Suffolk County League II game.

“You know, the next we see them I hope we make them sweat for four,” Riverhead coach John Rossetti said. “And we’re going to keep building and we’re going to keep working.”

The result left the Blue Waves with records of 6-6 overall and 4-4 in the league as they strive to reach the Class AA playoffs. They need to win at least six league games to book a postseason berth.

“Our kids are tough,” Rossetti said. “Every game we play we’re going to give them a ballgame. Our kids battle, they don’t step down to anyone, keep working hard.”

“A lot went wrong,” said senior forward Robert Tyre, who finished with 15 points. “We could have executed better down the stretch. Tough calls weren’t made. We can’t do anything about it now. The game’s over.”

Riverhead realized it was going to be a difficult game, although it turned the tables on the hosts. The Blue Waves tied it at 44-44 on Zy’Aire Pittman’s trey with one minute and 57 seconds left in the third quarter and took a 45-44 edge after Tyre sank a free throw with 1:28 remaining.

Shane Dean (game-high 27 points), however, went coast-to-coast for a layup after a missed Riverhead shot with 1:14 left to give Hills East a 46-45 lead it never relinquished.

Hills East (10-2, 7-1) lived up to its nickname when it counted, thundering down the stretch as Max Caspi (eight) and Dean (seven) combined for 15 points during a 25-18 quarter that turned a 50-47 lead into a double-digit win. The Thunderbirds sank all seven of their foul shots in the final 81 seconds to hold the Blue Waves at arm’s length, going 8 of 11 in the final period.

“From the beginning of the game we have to go out aggressive, talk on defense, not laying back,” Tyre said. “Playing defense — that’s where it all starts — on defense.”

Like most of Hills East’s opponents, the Blue Waves needed a crane to move Caspi, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound center who controlled the boards at both ends. Quashiem Miller (team-high 21 points) and Tyre took turns trying to contain Caspi (21 points, 13 rebounds), who cleaned up under the basket.

“He’s a big body,” Rossetti said. “Tonight was probably the first game we were outrebounded. He did a nice job controlling the boards.”

The Thunderbirds were torrid, whether it was from the field at 54.7 percent (29 of 53) or from the foul line at 83 percent (20 of 24).

In contrast, the Blue Waves shot 37.5 percent (21 of 56) from the field, but a decent 73 percent from the free throw line (8 of 11).

“I would say in general, we didn’t have a good shooting night,” Rossetti said. “On those nights you’ve got to attack the rim a little bit more and I think that’s what they did better than us tonight. They got shots inside the paint where we didn’t have as many shots inside the paint. In a game like this where it’s close, it’s a lot easier to take a six-footer than it is to take a 19-footer.”

Riverhead canned only three of its 20 three-point attempts, although it seemed just about every one that missed went in and out or rolled off the rim.

You would have thought that gravity would have caught up with some of them.

“We felt the same way, but sometimes the ball just doesn’t roll your way,” Rossetti said. “Today, that’s what it seemed like. The ball wasn’t bouncing our way tonight.”

The Blue Waves will have an opportunity to rectify that at Northport (10-3, 7-2) on Thursday at 6:15 p.m.

“We’re going to take this loss tonight, take it into Northport, that’s a definite,” Tyre said. “All the talking during the game, not making the right calls, not executing. We’re going to make sure we execute the next game.”