When the first big spurt came from Riverside Academy in the early stages of the third quarter, University High senior Wayde Sims was there to put a stop to it.
With the Rebels making another charge in the first minute of the fourth quarter, another senior, guard John Jones, stepped up for the Cubs to extinguish it.
“We’ve got four seniors and a junior out there,” U-High coach Joe Spencer said. “In the past, we were always young. They’ve been there and done that and handle it better at the end.”
Two-time reigning Class 3A state champion U-High took advantage of a fast start and showed its veteran poise midway through the final quarter for a 73-63 victory Thursday over Riverside Academy — the three-time defending Class 2A champs.
“We did a decent job hitting free throws, but we could hit a few more,” Spencer said. “I think our experience helped out in the fourth quarter.”
Balanced scoring from U-High (6-0) was also of paramount importance with Sims and guard Marshall Graves each scoring 19 points to lead a group of four players in double figures.
Jones and Jalen Johnson added 14 apiece for the Cubs, who shot 53 percent from the field, made 5 of 11 from 3-point range and was 16 of 20 from the free throw line.
“I’m actually encouraged,” Riverside coach Timmy Byrd said. “We looked good in spurts, and then we just couldn’t finish.”
Jared Butler, who quarterbacked Riverside’s football team to last Friday’s Division III state championship football game, led the Rebels (0-2) with 22 points. Herb McGee, a wide receiver on the football team, added 15.
A prelude of U-High’s offensive balance was on display when all five starters scored, with two free throws from Sims sparking a 12-0 surge that resulted in a 12-2 lead.
The Cubs also took advantage of early foul trouble to senior guard Malik Crowfield, who picked up his second and third fouls within a matter of seconds trying to guard Sims.
“Malik can’t get in foul trouble against a team like this,” Byrd said. “U-High is really good.”
Johnson’s 15-footer before the buzzer gave U-High a 19-9 lead which reached 32-17 with 2:21 left in the second quarter on Jones’ 3-pointer and Sims’ putback.
Riverside put together a 7-0 run out of the locker room, with McGee scoring five straight and Crowfield making his first field goal of the game following a turnover, reducing U-High’s lead to 34-29.
Sims, an LSU signee, responded with a basket and U-High stretched its lead back to 47-37 when Jones fed Graves for a bank shot with 1:32 showing.
Butler’s spin move in the lane resulted in Riverside closing to within 49-44 with 7:15 left in the game, but Jones answered with a 3-pointer and a tip-in from Sims, who had 17 rebounds, fueled a 17-6 run for a 66-50 advantage with 1:57 left on Graves’ two free throws.
“When you have three or four guys that can score, that’s tough on any defense, and that’s always kind of been our success here,” Spencer said. “Wayde usually leads us in scoring, but when you have that balance, to take away that one guy won’t matter.”