Maybe it was the new shoes. Maybe it was the slicker-than-usual gym floor. Maybe it was a little bit of Runnels’ aggressiveness. Or not.
Whatever the cause, Riverside Academy did not have a great night shooting the ball Friday night. But even on an off night, the No. 1 seeded Rebels had no trouble taking a decisive 92-57 victory over Runnels to earn their sixth consecutive trip to the LHSAA Boys Top 28 Tournament. The Rebels (26-6) have won the Class 2A title two years in a row. They will take on the North Caddo-Doyle winner at 4:30 p.m. Thursday at Burton Coliseum in Lake Charles
“We’re excited to do that,” said Rebels coach Timmy Byrd. “Our kids deserve it. They worked hard.”
“It’s wonderful, you know. Not too many teams get to go for a three in a row,” said Herb McGee, who finished with 22 points. “It’s an awesome feeling. You build something with guys. We were all young the first year we won it and we just kept that going.”
But it says a lot about a team that can shoot roughly 30 percent from the floor in the first quarter and still manage to dominate an opponent.
“Actually, it’s probably good to get it out of our system,” Byrd said. “You just don’t want to have an off night in the semis or the finals. If you’re going to do it, it’s good to do it and still get a win.”
But Riverside got off to an uncharacteristically cold start, missing from the outside, from the inside and even from the free throw line. The Rebels went nearly three minutes before hitting its first 3-pointer, a soaring jumper by Jordan Andrews – the first Rebel to warm up. But with all the misses – and despite a smothering defense that forced nine turnovers in the first quarter – the Rebels scored only 12 points in the period. Malik Crowfield would lead all scorers with 24 points. Andrews finished with 17.
“We came out and played slow,” Andrews said. “We didn’t hit shots that we normally hit. We just had to find a rhythm later on in the game and try to get it going.”
“I thought our effort was good on defense, but we didn’t shoot the ball well at all tonight,” Byrd said. “Just, offensively, we weren’t in rhythm the whole night. I think the slippery floor affected us too. But I thought, defensively, we did a really good job the first half. We played with a lot of intensity and effort. Offensively we just couldn’t keep going. We play hard and fast on both ends. We just pretty much smothered them and didn’t give them many opportunities the whole first half.”
Runnels (19-13) meanwhile, simply could not handle the Rebels’ press and had its own missed opportunities. The Raiders’ first points came from a pair of free throws by Hampton Hudson with 42 seconds remaining in the quarter. Grant Welch led the Raiders with 20 points. Hudson and Mohammed Pirzadoh both finished with 11 points. But Friday night’s game was a big step for a team that was the No. 31 seed last year and the No. 8 seed this year.
“We knew that they were good shooters,” said Runnels coach Ben Young, who was congratulated by a fan for holding the Rebels to under 100 points. “We tried to throw something a little different at them with the zones. For the most part it worked in the first quarter.
“But they’re good. They’re just relentless.”