At 7 a.m. Saturday, Riverside Academy assistant basketball coach Kevin Branch’s phone was ringing.
Head coach Timmy Byrd, who had to miss the game because of his son’s wedding, was calling.
Byrd “wanted to make sure I was on time and remembered how to get (to Holy Cross),” Branch said of Saturday’s midmorning game against East Jefferson in the Holy Cross Christmas Classic.
By 11:35 a.m., Branch was clarifying postgame procedures for his players to wash their uniforms at home.
Those turned out to be his biggest issues of the day.
His Riverside basketball players took care of everything else, dominating the Warriors 85-43 and handing Branch his first win as a high school head coach.
The 42-point Riverside win followed two losses in the prestigious City of the Palms Classic in Fort Myers, Florida. Losing is not common for the Rebels, who have won the past two Class 2A state championships and four of the past five.
“A game like this will help us get our confidence back up,” said Branch, whose team improved to 5-3. “Honestly, our kids were happy to get back home.”
Fourteen first-half turnovers doomed East Jefferson (5-8). Three of its first four possessions produced turnovers and enabled the Rebels to take a 12-0 lead in the first two minutes. The Warriors’ final six possessions produced five turnovers and an 8-0 spurt by the Rebels in the final 1:30 of the first half.
By intermission, the Rebels were coasting 54-24.
Malik Crowfield, who had a game-high 29 points, scored 12 in the second quarter. Herbert McGee scored 15 points, 12 in the first half.
East Jeff coach Ryan Dicharry said his pre-game instructions for the Warriors centered, “on getting back on defense in transition.”
“We didn’t figure that out until halftime,” Dicharry said. “They are a very good basketball team, probably one of the best in the state.”
The Warriors were 30-4 last season, losing to Landry-Walker in the Class 4A state championship game.
Saturday, the Warriors trailed 12-0 and had only taken two shots in the first two minutes. Strong defense led to easy transition baskets for the Rebels. Riverside shot 60 percent in the first half, making 21 of 35 field goals.
“Our defense starts our offense,” Branch said. “We like to push it on defense. Right now we are still trying to get in basketball shape.”
Sixteen Riverside basketball players also play football.
Joe Anderson also scored in double figures for Riverside with 10 points.
East Jefferson was led by Manny Nicolas’ 15 points. Leonard Lebranch had 10.
Riverside plays 5:30 p.m. Sunday against Higgins. East Jefferson will play at 3 p.m. against the winner of the Belle Chasse- Sophie B. Wright game.