There was nothing free about the free-throw line for Riverhead for most of Thursday's game at Smithtown West. In fact it was rather costly as the Blue Waves missed their first eight foul shots and were 2-for-11 when Deon Shorter faced a 1-and-1 with his team leading by a point and 23.3 seconds remaining in the game.
"Very nervous," Shorter said, "especially for that first shot." But the 5-8 junior sank it and "then I was very confident for the second one."
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Shorter made that shot, too, and Riverhead went on to a 59-55 Suffolk III victory. Shorter came off the bench to score all 11 of his points in the second half, seven in the fourth quarter. Markim Austin had 17 points and Jeremiah Cheatom added 15 points and 12 rebounds as the Blue Waves remained unbeaten (6-0) in league and improved to 9-1 overall. The Bulls fell to 6-3, 4-2.
Riverhead guard Ryan Bitzer scored five of his 12 points in a tense fourth quarter, including a foul-line jumper that produced a 55-51 lead with 3:30 left. More importantly, Bitzer clamped down in the second half on the Bulls' Ryan Hickey, who came into the game as Suffolk's leading scorer.
Hickey scored 12 points to help the Bulls build a 30-22 halftime lead, but managed only three after intermission. "He's a great scorer and you have to respect him," Bitzer said, "but we did a great job as a team on defense in the second half."
Bill Behrens and Mike Baiardi scored 17 points each for West, which never led in the fourth quarter. Hickey wove through traffic for a layup that cut the deficit to 55-54 with 1:43 left, but missed on another tough drive a minute later that led to the Bulls fouling Shorter.
After Shorter delivered, Hickey drew a foul with 4.7 seconds left and made one to make it 57-55. Hickey deliberately missed the second, but Cheatom grabbed the rebound, was fouled and sank two free throws with 1.9 seconds left to ice it.
"We're not, consistently, a good free-throw shooting team," Riverhead coach John Rossetti said. "But those fourth-quarter makes were there when we needed them."