Welcome to Suffolk County League II, where parity reigns supreme — and no lead is safe.
Every game is a battle. On any given night …
Riverhead coach John Rossetti pointed out that it’s possible that as many as six of the league’s nine teams will find their way into the playoffs. Northport, Half Hollow Hills East and Connetquot have already clinched playoff berths. Smithtown West, Walt Whitman, Riverhead and Bay Shore are in contention to join them.
“We have the best league in the county, in my opinion,” Riverhead senior guard Cristian Pace said. He added: “Every night we have a tough game. We have to come out and play as hard as we can.”
Rossetti said: “This league is from top to bottom, in all the years I have coached, as much parity as I can imagine. I mean, every night you have to come and play basketball, and not just every night, you have to play every quarter because things can change quickly.”
Nothing can be taken for granted — not even a rout in the making.
No better example of that was seen than on Friday when Riverhead played its best half of the season against visiting Smithtown West, with a 32-point halftime lead to show for it at 51-19. During the second quarter, Riverhead fans taunted the Bulls by chanting, “Start the buses!”
Not so fast.
Riverhead duplicated that 32-point lead (the largest of the game) when a Pace layup made it 57-25 in the opening minutes of the third quarter. West, however, went about whittling away at that lead. The Bulls outscored Riverhead by 25-12 in the third quarter and 24-14 in the fourth.
Rather remarkably, West managed to pull to within six points of Riverhead in the game’s final minute before the Blue Waves held on for a 77-68 win.
“It was very exciting what we did in the first half,” said Quashiem Miller, Riverhead’s 6-3 senior forward who had 20 points, 14 rebounds, six assists and two blocks. “We played great defense, but in the second half they just came in gunning, shooting hard threes, making hard threes and they had a really good comeback. We just closed it, though.”
A 13-2 West run capped by a Scooraj Shad jumper made it a game again, slicing Riverhead’s lead to 74-68. “They want to win, too,” said Miller.
In the final 18 seconds, though, West’s Jharious Bernard (21 points, 18 in the second half) fouled out and Riverhead’s Pace and Albert Daniels combined for three free throws.
Asked if he was worried down the stretch, Rossetti answered, “No, because I have faith in my team and I always believe in my team, regardless of what the scoreboard says.”
The second half was overshadowed, though, by Riverhead’s brilliant first half. Riverhead (8-8, 6-6), which had lost three of its previous four games, looked sharp and hit 21 of 37 field-goal attempts in the first half. Many of Riverhead’s baskets came on layups and putbacks, with some three-pointers sprinkled in. “The first half showed how good we really could play,” said Miller.
Pace said, “If we play like that, we can do that to teams.”
Pace knocked down four three-pointers and finished with 23 points and five assists. Robert Tyre had a big game, too, with 16 points and 16 rebounds. Daniels had 10 points.
West (9-6, 6-5), which had a three-game win streak snapped, received 10 points each from Matt Behrens, Michael Behrens and Brandon Rivera.
Ever since winning its first two league games this season, Riverhead has never been more than one game above or below .500 in league play. That speaks to the competitive nature of League II.
“I love every game being competitive, going every game, having to work as hard as the last game,” Miller said. “There’s no easy games. You have to treat every team just like the best team in the league.”
Friday’s result left Riverhead needing to win two of its final four regular-season games to reach the playoffs. What does Rossetti think of his team’s chances?
“Well, two out of four is 50 percent, right?” he said. “So, I’d say 50 percent.”
Then he said, “I’m not putting anything in writing.”
That’s wise. This is a tough league for making predictions.
Photo caption: Riverhead’s Cristian Pace maneuvers toward the basket while under the outstretched arms of Smithtown West’s Brandon Rivera. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)