Jose Rivera didn’t venture downtown very often last season. It was as if his long-range shooting came with a warning: Do not try this at home . . . or on the road.
Rivera made only 14 threes as a junior and averaged 10.7 points. Defense was the calling card for the Bay Shore swing man.
These days, he’s swinging on a star. Rivera stepped into a huge three-pointer late in the fourth quarter that provided the necessary cushion for No. 1 seed Bay Shore to hold off No. 4 Smithtown West, 66-59, Saturday in the first Suffolk AA semifinal played at Stony Brook University’s Island Federal Credit Union Arena.
“Coming out of the timeout, my intention was to shoot it,” said Rivera, who led the Marauders with 21 points, raising his scoring average to 18.5. “I worked on my outside shot in the offseason. I’m much more confident shooting the three now. When it went in, I knew it was a dagger.”
Rivera’s second trifecta of the game and 45th of the season, came with 1:30 left. Chris Crespo, who scored 15 of his 19 points in the second half, got to Bulls to within 60-54 with a three of his own with 48.6 left, but that was a close as they could get. Rivera put it away with a conventional three-point play with 25 seconds left. Darien Walcott and Jose’s twin brother Angel scored 12 points each, with Angel adding seven rebounds. Kyree Sampson scored nine of his 11 in the first half, when Bay Shore built a 36-24 lead.
“I worked on my outside game and Angel worked on his inside game,” said Jose Rivera, who also had eight rebounds and four steals. The twins helped lead Bay Shore (20-3) into Thursday’s Suffolk AA title game against No. 3 Half Hollow Hills East at 8 p.m. at Stony Brook University. Smithtown West finished 21-2.
Greg Giordano (11 points) drove for a pair of baskets to spark the Smithtown West rally, which began when the Bulls scored the final seven points of the third quarter, helped by another Crispo trey, to trim an 18-point deficit down to 50-43.
“We knew they could shoot the three (the Bulls made six) and we knew we’d have to weather the storm,” Bay Shore coach C.J. Leary said. “I thought our pressure got to them a little bit. We don’t handcuff our kids. We let them use their athleticism and hopefully make good decisions.”
Getting the ball to Jose Rivera certainly qualified. “He’s the best defender in the county but he’s made 45 threes. He can shoot it well enough. We ran a set and he got a good look from the top of the key.”
It was a place he could hardly see last season.