It’s dangerous grabbing Tigers by the tail. They’re bound to react.
And that’s just what the Northport Tigers did Thursday night after Riverhead battled them in a tight first half in which the teams were separated by only two points.
The Tigers started taking big bites out of the Blue Waves, one three-point shot at a time. By the time all the damage was done, Northport had delighted its home fans by knocking down 11 three-pointers from 21 attempts in a 66-58 Suffolk County League II boys basketball victory. The Tigers (11-3, 8-2) clinched a playoff berth with their fifth straight win.
Northport is a team with length and a fine shooting touch. It was Northport’s three-pointers — long threes — that made the difference.
“Shooting deep,” Riverhead coach John Rossetti said. “It was unbelievable. You got to give them credit. They hit deep shots and we had guys on them.”
They were deep and deadly. Six of those threes were knocked down by Sean Walsh. The 6-3 junior guard finished with a game-high 29 points, 12 in the fourth quarter.
Ian Melamerson added 14 points and 13 rebounds and all nine of George Mansour’s points came from threes.
“When the ball movement is there, our guys make the extra pass and if they’re open they know they have the green light to shoot,” Northport coach Andrew D’Eloia said. He added, “It was one of those nights when our guys were in a rhythm and sharing the ball.”
Altogether, Northport made 24 of 50 field-goal attempts (48 percent).
Riverhead (6-7, 4-5), playing its first game of the second half of the league season, didn’t have that sort of a shooting touch, going 19-for-48 (39.6 percent) and 3-for-12 from three-point distance.
The biggest lead of the first half came when a Walsh three-pointer made it 27-22 late in the half. A trey by Riverhead’s Zy’Aire Pittman cut the Northport lead to 27-25 by halftime.
But the Tigers came out firing in the third quarter, opening the period on a 12-4 run for a 40-29 advantage.
“They’re tough and they got kids who stretch you,” Rossetti said. “They have kids who can shoot from Chicago.”
Northport expanded its lead to as many as 15 points twice in the fourth quarter when a Walsh three-pointer made it 58-43 and a steal and a layup by Melamerson made it 60-45.
“The first half we limited our turnovers,” Rossetti said. “The second half we had more turnovers and we were less aggressive.”
Cristian Pace led Riverhead with 16 points and Albert Daniels added 12. Quashiem Miller, who took a 20-point average into the game, had 11 points to go with 10 rebounds. Robert Tyre had nine points, six rebounds and five steals.
Rossetti and D’Eloia share a history. The two played against each other in high school when Rossetti wore Centereach’s uniform and D’Eloia played for Northport.
On Dec. 12, Northport edged Riverhead, 60-58, on a last-second basket. D’Eloia has seen enough of the Blue Waves to know that they have made strides.
“Riverhead is a tremendous team,” he said. “For them to have the record they have shows how tough our league is. I think they’re a playoff team and I wouldn’t want to face them in the playoffs.”
At the start of the day, Northport and Riverhead were two of seven teams in the nine-team league with league records of .500 or better.
“It’s a league where you can’t take a night off,” D’Eloia said. “It’s like the Big East in the old days.”
After the game, Rossetti declined to make players available for interviews.
“It happens,” he said of the loss to the Tigers, “but you have to give them credit. They took care of the basketball a little better than we did. Tonight they were the better team.”
Riverhead needs four wins from its seven remaining regular-season games in order to clinch a playoff berth.
What was the message Rossetti wanted to convey to his players?
“Keep their heads up,” he said, “keep believing in each other, keep working hard and stick together because I believe in all of these kids right now.”
Photo caption: Riverhead senior forward Robert Tyre exchanges a high-five with junior varsity coach Brian Stark before Thursday night’s game in Northport. (Credit: Bob Liepa)