Published 12:00 am Friday, March 13, 2009



Reserve Christian coach Timmy Byrd put his arms around the shoulders of freshman Ricardo Gathers and senior Chris Roussell and declared to the waiting media, “I love these guys.”

After the clinic the Eagles put on in the Class C semifinals on Thursday, how could he not?

Reserve led by 17 at halftime and played even better from there, throttling No. 4 seed Atlanta 99-48 at the Top 28 Boys Basketball Tournament at the Cajundome in Lafayette.

The Eagles (43-7) will face Athens (37-7) at 5 p.m. today in the Class C title game at the Cajundome. It is the third consecutive season the teams have met to decide the championship.

The Eagles will be attempting to win their fifth straight state championship and seventh overall.

“We’re blessed to have a lot of great kids here,” said Byrd. “Whether it’s a half court or full court game, these guys go out and execute.”

Gathers scored 26 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and blocked six shots, all game-highs.

“He’s the toughest freshman I’ve ever seen,” said Atlanta coach Thomas Collins. “He’s very well-developed for a 15-year-old. We didn’t know how well he could shoot. He showed that he could tonight. We don’t see anything (else) like him in Class C.”

It was an impressive Top 28 debut for the 6-5 center, who wasted no time in introducing himself to the Cajundome crowd for the first time – he scored the first basket of the game came on a monstrous alley-oop slam off a Cedric Jenkins lob.

“Cedric just lobbed it up, and I just knew I had to go get it,” said Gathers. “It set the tone.”

Said Byrd: “I think it stunned (Atlanta) a little. Actually, I think it stunned the crowd, too.”

The Eagles’ postseason veterans weren’t so bad, either. Jenkins scored 25 points while adding seven rebounds, five assists and three steals. Roussell had 13 points, eight rebounds and two steals.

Atlanta’s championship hopes were dashed early in the third quarter by a 20-3 Eagle run. Ed Gallina scored the first six points of the half to run Reserve’s 37-20 halftime lead to 43-20. Roussell hit a 3-pointer to make it 50-21 with 5:16 left in the quarter. A Jenkins 3-pointer made it 55-23.

“Cedric and Chris made some threes that basically killed any hope they had of getting back in it,” said Byrd.

The Eagles also wore Atlanta down. If Reserve’s talent wasn’t enough overmatch the Bulldogs, its depth and conditioning certainly was.

“The plan was to wear them down,” Byrd said. “The court out there is 94-feet, and most high school teams don’t play on a court that large. It’s a lot of real estate to cover, and I think it was to our advantage.”

Reserve shot 57-percent in the second half from the field, including eight 3-pointers.

Gathers, Jenkins and Roussell combined to score 29 of Reserve’s 37 first half points.

Demontrez Sapp led Atlanta (30-7) with 13 points on the night.

“It’s hard for any Class C school to match up with that kind of talent,” said Collins, who is stepping down as Atlanta’s coach.

Reserve hopes today’s contest with Athens has a familiar ending. And a win could mean just a little bit more to one particular Eagle.

“I’m gonna miss playing with these guys. They’re like family,” said Roussell, who is one of only two Eagle seniors (the other beins Ashton Torres). “I won’t do anything differently, but I know I want to go out with a bang.”