Blue Waves fall short in second half, squad improving

There have been flashes of success this season for Riverhead’s boys basketball squad. But the Blue Waves have struggled to put it all together for a full 32 minutes to come out with victories.

“Inconsistency,” Riverhead head coach Elwood Lamb said after Tuesday’s 68-64 loss to Walt Whitman. “That’s what it comes down to.”

After a back-and-forth first quarter at Riverhead High School, the Blue Waves started to pull ahead in the second quarter with hard-nose defense, quality shooting and aggressive rebounding.

Markus Grigg carried the team on his shoulders for most of the first half, scoring 16 points and pushing Riverhead’s lead to as much as eight points. Once the Blue Waves took the lead with six minutes left to play in the second quarter, they looked like the better team and kept adding to the deficit, though Walt Whitman always seemed to hang around and refused to let the game get out of hand.

“We got some big shooting from Grigg and [Deshawn] Watkins in the first couple quarters,” Lamb said. “That was huge for us as a team to put those points on the board.  Wat is a huge scorer for us and we knew he has it in him.”

Watkins ended the game with a team-high 18 points, scoring in a multitude of ways, whether driving to the lane, shooting three-pointers or coming up with put-backs on rebounds. The junior’s 18 points were his career-high on varsity. 

Riverhead (1-7 League I, 2-10 overall) had control of the game to start the second half, and behind Pete Legnena’s sharp three-point shooting, the Blue Waves were able to fend off Whitman for most of the third quarter. But Whitman’s answer came from Christopher DiLeo. Whenever Legnena hit a three, DiLeo answered at the other end.

“They had one shooter and we just couldn’t get out to him,” Lamb said. “He singlehandedly turned the game around for them.”

Legnena hit four three-point baskets in that second half. DiLeo drained seven.

By the end of the third quarter, Whitman (3-5, 5-7) had taken its first lead since early in the second quarter.

“When things get tough we get nervous,” Lamb said. “Because we’ve lost so many games this year it’s almost like they expect the other team to come back and win.  When we’re ahead and things are going well, it’s all good. Once the other team starts coming back, I see heads down. We have the talent; we just need the fire to want and need to win.”

Even so, Riverhead fought back to take a four-point lead with five minutes to go, but turnovers and rushed possessions ended up sinking the team in the final stretch. The Blue Waves tried to lean on freshman point guard Anaais Mitchell and senior captain AJ Austin to calm the game down but unfortunately Austin, who scored seven points, couldn’t play much of that last quarter due to foul trouble.

“We need five guys out there with chemistry,” Lamb said. “And we need to close out these games. It’s not the first time we’ve been ahead and have not been able to close the game out. We need to change the mentality here. You have to believe you can win, otherwise things will never go your way.”

Riverhead will host Patchogue-Medford Thursday with tip-off scheduled for 4:30 p.m. The Blue Waves lost 54-52 to the Raiders early in the season in another game they had a good chance of winning. 

“We still have time to turn this around and win the rest of our games,” Lamb said. “That is what would make this season a success. And hey, crazier things have happened.”