With 1 minute and 42 seconds remaining in his Riverhead High School basketball career, emotions ran high for Jahquel Blount and some of his teammates. After he was taken out of the game by coach John Rossetti, Blount walked to the bench and hugged fellow seniors Albert Daniels and Te-Andre Pope.
“I was just saying, ‘Man, we love each other and all that and just love Riverhead,’ ” Blount said. “I put my heart and soul into Riverhead.”
It just didn’t end the way Blount wanted for his eighth-seeded Blue Waves, who finished their season with a 75-55 first-round home loss to No. 9 Ward Melville in the Suffolk County Class AA Tournament on Thursday night.
“A tough one,” Rossetti said.
Given that Riverhead edged Ward Melville in a non-league game, 72-71 at home on Dec. 23 and the closeness of the seeds, Rossetti figured it would be a close encounter again. “It made sense,” he said.
It sure did. Even prior to the opening tip-off, the atmosphere in the Riverhead gymnasium was electric as both sides had sizable rooting sections in what was a near-capacity crowd.
The Blue Waves (14-7) never got rolling as the Patriots (14-7) cruised to a 24-13 first-quarter advantage, sinking 62.5% of their shots (10 of 16), including four treys, and never looked back.
“I told them there were going to be some pregame nervousness, jitters and it’s going to be how quickly can you settle down,” Rossetti said. “I think they settled down a little quicker than we did. By the time we got our feet on the ground and absorbed the moment, they already had a 10-point lead. We were treading water from there and just trying to claw our way back and we could never claw our way enough through it.”
Guard Giancarlo Serratore (18 points) started and ended the first half with three-point baskets. With 4:16 left in the first period, Ward Melville enjoyed a 14-6 lead as Serratore and guard Jack Holland (game-high 22 points) already had canned two treys apiece.
“The first time we played them, we saw little glimpses and flashes of it,” Daniels said of the Patriots’ long-range shooting.
“Came out with a slow start, slow pace,” said Blount, who finished with 13 points. “They hit a lot of shots, a lot of threes. Killed us. Our momentum was down.”
It seemed that everything Ward Melville threw up at the basket went in. The Patriots zipped the ball around well enough to add several layups as they extended their lead to 43-27 at the half.
Every time Riverhead was ready to make a run, something would torpedo it. Sometimes it was a forced shot. Sometimes the basketball just wouldn’t fall the right way. Sometimes it was a turnover.
“We never could get that run together tonight,” Rossetti said. “Every time we made a little push, we did something, but it didn’t happen.”
Riverhead junior guard A.J. Johnson did his best to try to get the Blue Waves back in the game in the third quarter by scoring nine of his team-leading 16 points, but the Patriots added a point to the lead at 57-40.
“Every time we made a run, we’d get a turnover on a fast break, and then they would jump to a 4-0 … or 6-0 run,” Blount said. “We just couldn’t stop it.”
Added Daniels, who scored eight points, “We could never get back in the game.”
The disappointing result, however, did not diminish what Rossetti thought of the Blue Waves.
“I’m very proud of this team,” he said. “They’re a good bunch of kids. They worked hard. We had a nice season. Like I told them at the end of the game: In 10 years we’re going to look back at this and we had a pretty good, fun time.”
Actually, Daniels didn’t need a decade. He savored his time with this team.
“I think this was a great season,” he said. “We had three seniors who led us, who were starters. We had a guy who transferred out. When you have one returning starter, nobody expected us to do anything at all.”
Asked what he was going to remember most about this season, the senior guard replied, “Just being out there with my guys, working every day in practice, the comeback games we had, the big games we had. A great season. I cannot ask for anything more.”