Eagles fend off Wildcats comeback
Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 15, 2008
RCS falls in two overtimes to Salmen at Riverside H.O.F. Classic
By RYAN ARENA
A true litmus test of how far East St. John has come this season awaited them on Friday night, as the host ing Wildcats matched up with Reserve Christian – the same Eagles that blew them out a little over a month ago.
This time, Reserve Christian would win once again. It would not be nearly as easy.
The Wildcats erased a 25-point deficit to take a one-point lead in the fourth quarter, but Reserve Christian recovered in time to notch a 69-66 win.
“Our guys lost focus once we got ahead, and were not playing with intensity,” said Reserve Christian Coach Timmy Byrd. “It wasn’t until they caught us and took a lead that we regained our focus.”
Said East St. John Coach Yussef Jasmine: “We started sluggish. We still hadn’t gotten our confidence up in bigger games, and we got behind after a real slow start.
“In the second half, the kids played a lot harder. We got back on defense and it made a huge difference.”
The win was Reserve Christian’s third straight. It snapped East St. John’s three-game win streak
The Eagles (26-8) made seven key free throws down the stretch to ice the game.
Eddren McCain scored 16 points to lead RCS. Kyle McClue and Cedric Jenkins each added 12.
For East St. John (9-13), Bryce Robertson led the way with 22 points. Malcom Lago scored 13 and Jamaan Kenner added nine.
East St. John fell behind 17-6 after one quarter and trailed 39-19 at halftime.
But the Wildcats found their offense in the second half, scoring 47 points to climb back into the game.
Even though the effort came up short, Jasmine was encouraged by his team’s comeback effort against a defending state champion. After struggling for much of the early part of the season, East St. John appears to be gaining traction heading into district play.
“It’s a momentum builder,” said Jasmine. “Now these kids are starting to realize that they’re a pretty good team. They’ve had to learn a new system and adjust. But they’re becoming the team that I’ve been looking for all year.”
“They’re a much better team now. (Jasmine) is doing a real good job with them,” said Byrd. “Their kids could have quit in the first half, but they didn’t. We didn’t match their intensity in the second half.”
Reserve Christian returned to action on Saturday, in an exhibition game against Salmen that was part of the Riverside Hall of Fame Classic.
Salmen emerged the winner, outlasting the Eagles in double overtime, 82-80.
McCain led all scorers with 34 points. Roussell added 15. Jenkins cored 11, and McClue added 10.
R.J. Scott led Salmen with 23 points.
The Eagles suffered a great deal from foul trouble, which culminated in four RCS players fouling out of the game.
“It was really a back and forth game,” said Byrd. “We’d lead by five, then they’d go on a run and do the same. That’s a very talented junior and senior-laden team, with five guys that can score on the court.”
Reserve Christian also struggled from the foul line, shooting 17-27. Usually an Eagle strength, RCS has struggled from the stripe in recent games, something Byrd says the team will refocus on.
The Eagles led 35-34 at halftime.
Each team now turns its attention toward district play. RCS has already won two district games, each over Bishop McManus, continuing to build on its nine-year streak of never having lost a district game. The Eagles face Grand Isle on Friday in their third district game.
“We’re going to focus on playing more of our guys, and also extending our defense,” said Byrd of the upcoming district schedule. “We want to apply more pressure on defense, and play some of the full-court, man-to-man style that we can’t always do against deeper teams.”
Meanwhile, for East St. John, a road game with St. Amant awaited the Wildcats on Tuesday for their district opener.
Jasmine is confident in his team’s ability to make an impact this district season.
“We’re going in expecting to win it,” said Jasmine. “I think we’re in a good spot. A lot of teams are probably underestimating us, due to our record. But I think we’re playing as well as anyone right now.”