Published 12:00 am Friday, January 11, 2008

RCS holds on with seconds left to preserve an 82-80 win win


Sports Editor

Ask anyone associated with Reserve Christian and they’ll say the same thing – that while the defending Class C champions can certainly compete and win anywhere, the Eagles evolve into something special at home.

That couldn’t be put to the test any more than it was on Tuesday night. RCS hosted Class 4A power Ellender, one of the top rated teams in the state and one that defeated the Eagles convincingly two weeks ago at the St. Thomas More Sunkist tournament, 110-73.

But this time, the Eagles controlled their own destiny with six seconds left. Cedric Jenkins’ two foul shots put RCS ahead, 82-80. Moments later, a layup attempt by the Patriots’ Jamal Nixon fell short, and Reserve Christian secured a two-point victory in its toughest home test of the season.

“These kids played beyond their years,” said Reserve Christian Coach Timmy Byrd. “This is big for us. I’m real proud of our effort and tenacity. All six of my guys really stepped up.”

Reserve Christian (24-8, 2-0) is now 7-0 at home this season.

In the teams’ previous meeting, Eagles’ All-State point-guard Eddren McCain sat out with a knee injury. This time, McCain was back, and the Eagles soared, their high-octane offensive attack running once again on all-cylinders.

“What more can you say about Eddren McCain, our leader out there,” said Byrd. ”He was big time tonight. He’s not only the best point guard in the state, but one of the best in the entire nation.”

Chris Roussell led Reserve Christian with 26 points. Jenkins scored 19, and McCain added 13.

Sterling Jones scored a game-high 33 points for Ellender (18-7). Chris Duthu scored 12, all in the fourth quarter.

“This win definitely boosts our confidence a lot,” said Roussell.

It was a game of runs between two teams that relentlessly pushed the ball down the court.

Ellender led 41-37 at halftime, but Reserve Christian would rally to take a 46-45 lead with 4:53 left in the third quarter on a basket by Lucas Martin.

The team’s then traded the lead back and forth until Ellender scored at the end of the quarter to take a 57-55 lead into the fourth.

Neither team could shake loose. After a Roussell shot gave the Eagles a 72-67 lead, a quick 3-pointer by Jones and a layup off a turnover by Duthu tied the game.

Once again, RCS went ahead by five, 77-72 after a basket underneath and a 3-pointer, both by Kyle McClue. But a Duthu’ 3 and a Jones’ foul shot cut the lead to one.

With the Eagles leading 79-78, Martin hit 1-of-2 free throws to give his team an 80-78 advantage. Nixon would tie the game with a layup with 15.4 seconds left, on an attempt very similar to the one that would fall just short only seconds later.

Byrd, who relied heavily on a six-man rotation throughout the game, said the Eagles played a variety of different defenses, some designed to slow the game down at times against a running, pressing Ellender squad that was 10 men deep.

“We knew we don’t have the depth right now to play the right kind of man-to-man defense against them all game long,” said Byrd. “Our zone slowed down the tempo a bit in the third quarter. We switched it up quite a bit.”

Roussell said that his team’s mentality in answering the Patriot runs was crucial in notching the win.

“It’s very exciting to play in one like this,” said Roussell. “You just have to keep it going. We had to come in and fight, and push back with all we had.”