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Boys Basketball: Riverhead’s slow start leads to unhappy ending

It was a magical four-minute spell to close out the third quarter. Riverhead was energized and so was its home crowd.

The Blue Waves’ pressure defense was forcing turnovers and converting those turnovers into points. Each time a steal produced a Riverhead layup, the crowd roared. Brandon Johnson made six steals himself in the quarter, which ended on a 14-2 run by the home team. Johnson was integral to it, nailing a three-pointer, making an artful, winding layup and assisting on a couple of other layups.

It was really good stuff.

As for what happened before and after all that — not so much.

Unfortunately for Riverhead, what happened in the other 28 minutes of the Suffolk County League I boys basketball game outweighed that four-minute flurry of activity and the Blue Waves lost, 66-44, to Sachem North on Friday.

“It was ours,” senior guard TayShaun Hawkins lamented. “We had the momentum on our side. We just didn’t execute in going through all the way.”

What weighed Riverhead (2-4, 0-2) down was a dismal first half in which it shot 4-for-35 from the field and managed only 13 first-half points.

“You can’t start the game like that, you know,” coach Elwood Lamb said. “You fight an uphill battle.”

Sachem North (3-3, 1-1) twice took 20-point leads in the third quarter before Riverhead picked up the tempo, pressed and trapped. Johnson’s three-pointer, followed by a conventional three-point play by Curtis Spruill and a Spruill layup, pulled Riverhead within 37-29 by the end of the third quarter.

“That was Riverhead basketball,” Hawkins said. “That’s how we play, that’s how we should play every game. That’s how we should play from start to finish. We just took too long to wake up.”

D.J. Spruill, Curtis’ cousin, said: “That was actually the most exciting part of the game. I feel like everybody’s adrenaline was running.”

Riverhead’s Javonte Martin ran into a crowd on this shot attempt, namely Sachem North’s Tyler Davide (20) and Anthony Conway (13). (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)

Sachem North regained momentum by opening the fourth quarter with a Volz three, a Tyler Davide free throw and a Brendan Halloran layup. When a mini-run pulled Riverhead within eight points later in the quarter, Sachem North responded by running off the next 14 points.

A three-point play by Hawkins gave Riverhead a 7-4 lead before Sachem North reeled off 15 straight points — nine of them coming from Davide — over a spell that spanned the first and second quarters. It was 25-13 Sachem North at the half.

The 6-6 Davide netted 13 of his 27 points in the first quarter and pulled down 16 rebounds in the game. Matt Rintoul brought Sachem North 14 points and Volz had 11. Halloran’s 13 rebounds and 12 boards from Andrew Eaton helped the Flaming Arrows outrebound Riverhead, 46-32. Eaton also had nine points.

Curtis Spruill had 15 points and 11 rebounds, Johnson added 10 points and Logan Swenk came down with nine rebounds for Riverhead.

Riverhead didn’t participate in last winter’s compressed season because of a school budget defeat. Its last season was in 2019-20, and Hawkins is the only team member who brought varsity experience into this season. With a new coaching staff led by Lamb and assistant coach Lonnie Hughes, Riverhead faces the challenge of competing in League I for the first time, said Lamb. Among the other League I teams Riverhead must contend with are Brentwood, Longwood, Patchogue-Medford, William Floyd, Sachem East and Central Islip.

“Every League I game is gonna be tough,” Lamb said. “There’s gonna be no gimmes, you know, no walks in the park.”

Consistency has been an issue, as evidenced by the spotty play in Friday’s game.

“We have to make a [complete] U-turn,” said Hawkins, who had nine points. “I mean, as of right now, we just lost two tough league games, two really winnable games. We should be 2 and 0 right now.

“I think we just need to stay together more. Once we stay together and we play how we play — and we’ve been playing with each other forever — there should be no excuses. We have everything. We have every piece. We just have to jell it together. That’s what we have to do. We have to work on putting everything together in a short amount of time because we’re running out of time.”