Eagles survive Cougars push to win Country Day tourney

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Sports Editor

Reserve Christian won it’s opening game at this past weekend’s Country Day Classic tournament on the back of a last second 3-pointer. To wrap up the tourney title, it would have to deny one as well.

An off-balance 3-point attempt by St. Thomas More’s Will Norman fell just short with no time remaining, allowing the Eagles to emerge with a 58-56 win in the Classic’s championship game.

“It’s a big tournament to win. We had to beat one of the state’s top teams, with a Hall of Fame coach in Danny Broussard,” said Reserve coach Timmy Byrd. “It was a growing up tournament for us, having to win four very tough games.”

It was a bounce back performance for Reserve after a first-round loss at their own tournament a week prior, and the team’s fourth tournament title of the year. The combined record of the teams Reserve defeated at Country Day is 46-14.

Reserve (22-3) led by 11 points entering the fourth quarter, but a scoring surge by Norman led the Cougars back to tie the game at 56 with less than two minutes remaining.

Cedric Jenkins and Chris Roussell combined to knock down two-of-four free throws within the final minute to give Reserve a 58-56 lead.

St. Thomas More (18-2) lost a chance to tie the game after Xavier Blackburn missed an open layup after an inbounds play. Reserve’s Ricardo Gathers saved a loose ball from going out of bounds, and the Eagles brought it in. Reserve almost killed the clock, but an errant pass by Franklin Francois rolled out of bounds and gave the Cougars one last chance.

After four combined time outs, STM finally inbounded the ball to Norman in the backcourt, who dribbed it up the court and fired from the wing at the last possible second. The shot drew iron, but was just short, and pleas from the Cougars and their fans for a foul call weren’t answered.

”We wanted them to catch the ball in the backcourt,” Byrd said. “We knew we couldn’t give them a good 3-point look. I’m glad they didn’t call a touch foul at the end. We felt like they’d go to No. 22 (Norman) and they did.”

Cedric Jenkins scored 19 to lead Reserve. He was named tournament MVP.

Norman scored 20 to lead all scorers. 15 of those — including four 3-pointers and an alley-oop dunk — came in the fourth quarter to lead STM on a 19-8 run to tie the game.

Each team started slow offensively, perhaps due to fatigue — each team won a game earlier in the day to advance. Reserve led 11-10 after the first quarter, but missed on a number of open looks from the perimeter.

“At the beginning, we were sluggish. We were kind of feeling the effects of the tournament,” Jenkins said. “We shook it off as we went along.”

St. Thomas More pulled ahead 19-13 in the second quarter. But had shooting issues of their own — specifically, from the free throw line, where the Cougars missed 6-of-7 free throws after taking that six point lead.

It left a crack in the door for the Eagles, who slammed right through. Jenkins hit a 3-pointer, then a layup to cut the lead to 1. After a Cougar basket upped the lead to three, Reserve got red hot. A put back by Jenkins started a 15-2 run to end the half, including baskets each of the Eagles’ final five possessions — three of those coming from 3-point range.

Reserve led 33-23 At halftime, and maintained a double-digit advantage for most of the third quarter. But STM showed why it had only lost one game in its first 19, and charged back into it.

“Part of that was our own youth,” said Byrd. “We made some lazy passes with the lead. It tends to happen with a young group.”

Roussell and Louis Dabney scored 13 points for Reserve. Blackburn added 13 for St. Thomas More.

EAGLES TOP CAJUNS, KNIGHTS TO ADVANCE— In the tournament semifinals on Saturday afternoon, Reserve made a late push to defeat host Country Day, 74-63.

The Eagles led 44-42 entering the fourth quarter, but outscored the Cajuns (10-2) 32-19 to advance to the title game.

Jenkins led a group of five scorers in double digits for Reserve with 18 points. Roussell scored 17. Gathers and Gallina scored 13, and Francois added 12.

Eddie Ludwig led Country Day with 22 points. Matt Derenbecker added 19.

On Friday night, it took overtime to decide things when the Eagles clashed with St. Augustine (11-4). Reserve captured a 63-59 win over the Purple Knights in the tournament quarterfinals.

With the score tied at 55, Reserve missed a chance to win in regulation, failing to get a shot off after an inbounds play with 2.9 seconds remaining.

But Gathers began overtime with a pair of baskets underneath, and a foul shot by Derek Taylor put Reserve ahead 60-55 with 43 seconds left. From there, St. Augustine twice closed to within three, but no closer.

Gathers led all scorers with 22 points. Gallina added 17.

Gathers, a freshman, says that he’s starting to gain more and more confidence.

“I feel like I’m becoming more mature,” he said. “I try to learn all I can to learn from Cedric. He’s a good person to learn from,” he said of his junior teammate.

NOTES: Reserve won the final game without the services of junior Ed Gallina, who injured his knee at the tournament…The Eagles did, however, regain point guard Kyle McClue, who saw his first action since a preseason ankle injury.