With his long arms, quick feet and overall agility, defense is Jose Rivera’s calling card.
And it’s true the Bay Shore guard’s primary assignment entering Tuesday night’s Suffolk II showdown against Half Hollow Hills East was to shadow the Thunderbirds’ high-scoring Savion Lewis.
But there was Rivera, wide open in the corner or finding room in the paint, scoring point after point. “That’s new,” Bay Shore coach C.J. Leary said of Rivera’s ever-expanding offensive game.
The 6-2 Rivera checked off a lot of boxes, scoring 26 points with eight rebounds, four blocks and three steals as Bay Shore utilized a 40-point second half to defeat host Hills East, 76-55, and forge a tie atop the league. Both teams are 8-1.
“It was a statement game,” said Rivera, well aware that a league championship and potential top seed in the Suffolk Class AA playoffs was at stake. Hills East had rallied to beat the Marauders in overtime on Dec. 22.
Rivera scored 16 points in a rip-roaring first half that ended tied at 36. But his twin brother Angel (13 points, seven rebounds, two blocks, three steals) had been benched with three fouls.
More important, however, was Jose’s defense. Though Lewis wound up with 16 points, six came after Bay Shore had pulled away in the fourth quarter. “He’s fast and he’s a good player. I tried to force him to one side,” Rivera said. “Then my teammates played great help defense.”
The Marauders’ high-pressure ‘D’ was the second-half story line, as they outscored the T-birds 40-19. “We finally got after it defensively,” Leary said. “When we guard people, we are hard to beat.”
Anthony Simpson (seven points, eight rebounds), Darien Walcott (11 points, two steals) and Kyree Sawyer (10 points, five assists, two steals) also excelled on defense for Bay Shore, which actually increased its lead after Angel Rivera went back to the bench early in the third quarter with his fourth foul.
At that point, Leary switched Jose Rivera off Lewis on defense so he could concentrate more on offense. The ploy worked as the Marauders went on an 11-0 run to erase a 45-40 Hills East lead. Jose Rivera and Walcott (two) contributed three-pointers during that spurt and Rivera added a putback late in the period as Bay Shore took a 55-46 lead entering the final quarter.
Angel Rivera returned midway through the fourth and helped put the game away. He scored a runner in the lane and then made a steal that he turned into a three-point play and a 70-53 lead.
“When Angel went out, Coach took me off Lewis so I could help more on offense,” Jose Rivera said. “I’ve been working hard on my shooting but I don’t want to lose my defense.”
After all, that’s his calling card.