The Bronx birds battled on the hardwood over the weekend, and when the dust settled, it was the Riverdale Falcons who soared past host Fieldston Eagles 70-59.
The win boosted Riverdale Country School’s record to 12-2 on the season, while Fieldston fell to 1-15.
“It was a great team win, although we had some shady moments,” Riverdale forward Sean O’Toole said. “We needed this win after we took a tough loss last week. This was a good bounceback game.”
But before they could post their latest victory, the Falcons found themselves in some familiar territory.
“We’ve come out a little bit slow in a lot of our games,” Riverdale forward Jack Krentzman said. “But this game we finished stronger than we have in the past.”
The Eagles ran up a 13-4 lead in the first quarter, taking advantage of Riverdale taking seven minutes to convert its first field goal with Fieldston’s Justin Ben-Ari controlling the boards and the Eagles’ tandem of Kam Rodriguez and Timmy Selkridge doing the heavy lifting on offense.
Ben-Ari “was killing us on the boards, and we made an adjustment there,” Riverdale head coach Steven Bluth said. “But it’s not easy to defend (Rodriguez) and (Selkridge). Those two guys are something. Anyone who says you can’t be good at basketball and be small at the same time doesn’t know basketball.
“Those two guys are really hard to defend. They’re slippery, they’re quick, and they’re good ball handlers.”
The second quarter finally saw the Falcons break out of their early-game funk as they scored 10-0 unanswered points in the opening moments to take their first lead of the game at 14-13. Riverdale never looked back.
Noah Seeherman led the Falcons with 18 points while the forward tandem of Krentzman and O’Toole collected 17 and 12, respectively.
Sean and I “just played hard whenever we got a chance to go in,” Krentzman said. “We usually switch off, and when we got in, we were both boxing out and making sure that we were capitalizing on second chance opportunities. Some of those rebounds were a big part of this win for us.”
Precise passing was a key ingredient as well.
“My teammates were finding me easily after driving to the basket and dropping it off to me,” O’Toole said. “I have to give them credit.”
Riverdale’s success was also a product of playing team basketball, according to Krentzman.
“We’ve come together a little bit better,” he said. “Fieldston played their hearts out and it was our teamwork that surpassed their effort. We just had to pull it together and make sure that we’re playing as a team. We really emphasize ‘us’ stuff over ‘I’ stuff, making sure that everyone does the right stuff for the team.”
Keeping things simple, Bluth said, is key for the Falcons.
“We just had to play our game,” he said. “We have a very good group of players, and we’re pretty deep. It was really just more of having to settle down and play our game, not their game.”
Bluth bemoaned the fact his Falcons’ stingy defense was affected somewhat by a bevy of foul calls in the game.
“Our defense picked it up,” Bluth said. “I felt like our defense was better than the officials allowed it to be. But there’s nothing we can do about it.”
Luckily for Riverdale, there actually was a little something that they could do about it as they won the battle at the free throw line. The Falcons shot an impressive 84 percent from the line while Fieldston knocked down just 69 percent.
Already surpassing last year’s win total, Riverdale now focuses on the final leg of the regular season as it makes its championship push.
“We have some tough games ahead,” Bluth said. “There’s not an easy game coming up. We have mostly league games left and we have two non-league games, so every game will count.”
The Falcons have seven regular-season games remaining with a scheduled visit to Dalton Jan. 30. Riverdale then hosts Berkeley Carroll on Feb. 4.
With a crucial part of their schedule ahead, O’Toole expects his team to finally tap into their potential.
“We’re going to continue to come out and play good team basketball,” he said. “We need to fight every game, and we’ve only gotten stronger as a team. I think we’re only going to get better and better.”
But Bluth knows the road to a league title will not be an easy one.
“Right now we’re playing for the Ivy League championship,” he said “Every day is going to be a battle until then.”