There are a lot of little things in every basketball game. From putting the effort into getting an offensive rebound to making the extra pass to showing poise under pressure. Ward Melville had all these little things going for it in its postseason opener at Riverhead Thursday evening and they added up to something big.
The ninth-seeded Patriots made extra passes for open three-pointers, scored on second chances and never withered in the face of No. 8 Riverhead’s press and rolled to a 75-55 victory in the first round of the Suffolk Class AA playoffs.
“We’ve been in the playoffs for eight straight years, so it’s a seasoned group that doesn’t let the moment get the better of them,” Patriots coach Alex Piccirillo said. “They were exactly the team we try to be: unselfish. We don’t take chaos shots because our players move the ball and they are willing to make that extra pass because they know they’re going to get the ball back.”
Those extra passes led to a total of 10 three-pointers — including four each by senior guards Jack Holland and Giancarlo Serratore — which keyed the win. Holland and Serratore each made two three-pointers as Ward Melville (14-7) opened a 24-11 first-quarter lead that the Blue Waves would not be able to really make a dent in.
Holland finished with 22 points, Serratore had 18 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, forward Ted Bliznakov had 10 points and Otto Nicholson, the 6-5 center, had nine points, 11 rebounds and six assists for Ward Melville. Adrian Johnson had 16 points and Jahquel Blount had 13 points for Riverhead (14-7).
The teams met in a non-conference contest on Dec. 23 and Riverhead rallied from a double-digit lead for a one-point win. The Patriots held that result close as the contest approached.
“It fueled us into this game,” senior swingman Myles Brown said. “We thought we were the better team and we wanted to show it.”
“We felt that we had to hit them early and hit them hard to put our imprint on the game,” Nicholson said.
Nicholson was a potent weapon on the interior. He scored his points on low-post moves and putbacks and kicked it out for four of Ward Melville’s three-pointers, two in the pivotal first quarter.
“His play really opened up things for us on the perimeter,” Holland said. “When they doubled down on him, he found the open man.”
Ward Melville’s reward for the convincing victory is a quarterfinal against top-seeded Brentwood (20-1) on the road next Thursday.
“The Suffolk championship goes through Brentwood — it’s been that way all season,” Piccirillo said. “Our games against them were battles, but with the season they’ve had, it’s clear you have to get past them if you want to hoist the trophy at the end.”
Brentwood won both regular-season meetings though the Patriots led the second meeting at halftime.
“We feel like we showed we can hang in with them the last time we played, but none of that matters now. The seeds don’t matter now,” Nicholson said. “It’ll be who is ready to play. We are ready to play.”