Basketball is a game of momentum. You have to ride the highs and minimize the lows.
Riverhead started out hot on Tuesday night in front of a rambunctious home crowd at Riverhead High School. It was hard to believe that this team hasn’t won a game all season. They were moving the ball, finding the open shooter and playing outstanding defense. After the first quarter, the Blue Waves were leading, 14-9.
Then came the lows.
Patchogue-Medford (0-4 league II, 1-6 overall) started to take control of the game, forcing Riverhead into turnovers and the lead slowly evaporated. A team that has lost every game to this point could have easily folded. It’s happened every game so far.
“Coming into this game we knew it was going to be a battle,” Riverhead head coach Elwood Lamb said. “There’s no nights off in our league.”
Halftime score was 20-20.
It was still within striking distance for the Blue Waves. But the third quarter started with back-to-back threes for the Raiders. The crowd quieted but Riverhead kept fighting. The lead changed hands four times.
“I was most impressed with how well we fought back,” a jovial Lamb said. “In the past six games we get down and then we get down on ourselves and the hole gets deeper and then we can never get out of that hole. But today they fought.”
The final momentum swing came in Riverhead’s favor as AJ Austin came up with a huge steal and score with 6 minutes left to tie the game, 36-36. Amari Funn followed with a basket and then Connor Levasseur took the top of the building with a clutch three-point basket to extend the lead to 5 points. Levasseur led the team with four three-point baskets.
“We were hungry coming into this game,” Funn said. “We fed off each other’s intensity.”
Funn led the team in points with 21 and added three steals. His biggest steal came with three minutes left in the game where he brought it coast-to-coast for an easy layup. To make matters worse for the Raiders, he hit a three-pointer in the next possession down.
“I was in the zone there,” Funn said. “The crowd was going wild, I had to let it go.”
Riverhead (1-2 league II, 1-6 overall) never looked back. The lead ballooned to 10 points and Patchogue-Medford had no answer. Winless Riverhead was suddenly one-win Riverhead as the final score read: 51-44. A huge weight was lifted off their shoulders.
“Our defense was the best it looked all year and that’s what really won this game today,” Lamb said. “They were aggressive early and we need to keep that same energy for the rest of the season.”
A big component of that defense was AJ Austin who had three steals. He’s been slowly integrating into a point guard role for Lamb’s offense and the fact that he registered seven assists shows it is working.
“AJ is typically a shooting guard,” Lamb said. “He was not a point guard coming into the season. I had a little bit of a dilemma not having a point guard and had to talk him into playing it.”
Austin added 11 points – many of which he drove the lane himself to get.
“He’s so used to playing off the ball,” Lamb continued. ”I think he’s finally buying into what he has to do. Run the team and set guys up for shots and control the tempo.”
Riverhead now travels to William Floyd on Thursday to try to ride the momentum of their first league win.
“If we come out with the same energy they came out with today, it’s going to be a good game,” Lamb said. “William Floyd is a tough team. I would put them right at the top of our league. The kids are excited. A lot of family ties between us and William Floyd. I’m sure the gym will be packed.”