Boys Basketball: For Waves, home is where the wins are

The Riverhead Blue Waves are homebodies. If it was up to them, they would never leave home.

And there’s a good reason for that: They don’t lose at home.

At least they haven’t so far this season.

The Blue Waves maintained a perfect record in their familiar Riverhead High School gym — and pulled to within one win of clinching a playoff berth — by running off a 68-47 Suffolk County League II boys basketball defeat of Walt Whitman Friday.

“Everyone loves home cooking,” said coach John Rossetti, whose team upped its record to 8-0 on the Riverhead court. “Being in our own gym with basketballs we’re familiar with and rims we’re used to, the lighting, everything. This place is a special place to play basketball and when you have it filled like it was today, it’s a real enjoyable place to play basketball.”

Jahquel Blount gets past a Whitman defender to go up for a shot. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)

The Blue Waves (11-4, 5-2) were surely enjoying themselves Friday, taking charge of the game from the beginning and ratcheting up their intensity for what Rossetti called their best defensive game of the season. That defense made 16 steals and pressured Whitman (6-7, 4-3) into 25 turnovers, 14 more than Riverhead. If that wasn’t enough, the Riverhead defense also limited Whitman to 28.1% shooting.

“You got to give all the guys credit,” Rossetti said. “They came out defensively. They created a lot of turnovers tonight. We made them feel uncomfortable. We capitalized on transition and we did what we do best — played run and gun.”

When these teams played Dec. 13, Riverhead pulled out a 70-68 victory in a back-and-forth affair. This rematch wasn’t like that at all. In this one, Whitman held one brief lead at 3-2 in the opening minute. The rest of the game was all Riverhead.

Five Blue Waves scored as Riverhead ran out to a 15-3 lead and never really looked in danger of losing it.

“We have to come out every game like this, every game off the jump,” sophomore guard TayShaun Hawkins said. “We knew what we had to do.”

That included keeping a sharp eye on Whitman’s two biggest scoring threats, Mike McIndoo and Michael Aloisi, who scored 15 and 12 points, respectively. McIndoo also grabbed 10 rebounds.

Jacob Wilkinson draws contact as he goes up for a shot. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)

Riverhead, meanwhile, had nice games from a variety of sources. Albert Daniels came away with 16 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block. Jahquel Blount dropped in 14 points and Shammond Henry added 12 points and eight rebounds.

“Shammond was a monster tonight,” Rossetti said. “He’s had three of the best halves of his career so far and hopefully he keeps developing and growing, and we look for big things from him in the future.”

Certainly not to be overlooked, though, were the tireless efforts of the active A.J. Johnson. The junior guard totaled nine points, 11 rebounds, seven steals and four assists.

“I feel like he really lifts it up, like getting us extra fast-break points, extra layups, extra rebounds,” junior guard Jacob Wilkinson said. “He always crashes” the boards.

Rossetti called Johnson “the catalyst for our team. He does a lot of things that most people don’t see. He gets rebounds. He creates turnovers. He handles the ball for us.”

Riverhead, which shot 37.9% for the game, led by 14 points at halftime and 12 through three quarters. In the fourth quarter, Riverhead outscored Whitman, 21-12, six points apiece coming from Daniels and Henry. Riverhead reeled off 10 straight points in the period, making the score 59-36. It was the first of three 23-point leads for the Blue Waves.

Albert Daniels puts up a one-handed shot. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)

Riverhead went predominantly with a man-to-man defense. In the fourth quarter, the Blue Waves switched to a matchup zone “just to throw them off a little bit and I think it took the wind out of their sails a little bit,” said Rossetti.

Two Cougars — McIndoo and Frantz Jean Baptiste — fouled out in the fourth quarter. With 2 minutes and 39 seconds left to play, Rossetti cleared his bench.

Now Riverhead can nab a postseason place with a win in its next game, at Sachem North Wednesday.

Said Rossetti, “The next one gets us into the playoffs and after that, we just keep going.”

So, what accounts for that spotless home record?

“Honestly, our crowd,” Johnson said. “Our crowd keeps us going.”