Rebels knock off Cajuns

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 26, 2009



METAIRIE – Merry Christmas, Riverside fans.

At the very least, one might call it a productive holiday week for the Rebels. Saturday brought a victory over the defending Class 5A state champions of Mississippi, Biloxi High School. Tuesday night saw Riverside knock off a more local foe, Class 4A champion Salmen, in a 59-55 comeback victory in the semifinals of the Country Day Classic.

Wednesday night brought the third victory this week over a defending state champion, as the Rebels toppled Class 1A Country Day in the Country Day Classic championship game, 69-61.

The Rebels (14-2) survived the red-hot shooting of LSU commitment Matt Derenbecker, who scored 31 on the night.

But the Rebels turned up their defensive pressure in the later stages of the second half, erasing a Cajun lead and holding Derenbecker to a single field goal in the fourth quarter.

“We all dug in,” said Riverside’s Cedric Jenkins, who was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player for the second straight season. “We knew we were in for a dogfight. That team never backed down at all.”

In the middle of Riverside’s intense defensive pressure was Jenkins, who said he “begged” Riverside coach Timmy Byrd to let him guard the Cajuns’ top gun.

“Ever since last year, I’ve asked for that chance,” said Jenkins, referencing Country Day’s victory over Jenkins’ Reserve Christian team late last season. “I got into him. I think I wore him down as we went on.

“(Derenbecker’s) always hot. All you can do is try to make his shots a little more difficult.”

Jenkins finished with 17 points. Ricardo Gathers scored 19, and Louis Dabney added 10.

Country Day entered the game after upsetting the top ranked team in Class 4A, Glen Oaks, by 20 points.

The win over the Cajuns was Riverside’s 11th straight victory. But it wouldn’t come easy – the result was in doubt until the game’s final minutes.

The teams traded runs back and forth in the first half as the Cajuns carried a 34-31 lead into halftime.

Derenbecker began the second half on a roll, in one stretch scoring eight straight points for Country Day, including back to back 3-pointers. His last bucket of that run gave the Cajuns a 46-41 lead.

Coming off of a 37-point explosion against Glen Oaks, his play came as no surprise to Riverside coach Timmy Byrd.

“We wanted to play him straight up,” he said. “We knew if we trapped him … Derenbecker’s so good at finding cutters and open men. You can’t afford to trap Matt. He’s a big time player, and this team can beat anyone when he’s making shots.”

But then Riverside turned up the intensity, and center Ricardo Gathers took charge.

He cut the lead to three on a basket-and-one off a dish from Kyle McClue. He added another three-point play on a putback to tie the game. With Riverside pressing full court, Gathers got to play a little “free safety”, twice stealing long passes at center court – on the latter, he dribbled up court and found McClue, who dished to Jenkins for an open 3. It put the Rebels up 51-46.

“When you go against people like Matt Derenbecker, and a team like this, you’ve gotta turn it on,” said Gathers.

Two free throws by Nick Hansel cut the Riverside lead to 51-50. Jenkins swished another 3 through to push the advantage to four after a Kane Keller steal. A Gathers baseline jumper made it 56-50, and Jenkins would make it 58-52 on a layup off a Gathers pass.

Derenbecker cut the lead to four with 1:27 left on a driving layup. Gathers responded by drawing a foul and hitting two free throws.

“What I liked about Rico tonight was that he hit his free throws down the stretch,” said Byrd. “I debated whether to take him out at one point, and he said, ‘No, I’m going to make my free throws.’ He did a great job.”

With 45 seconds left, Hansel drilled a 3 to make it 61-58. But the teams traded foul shots from there, and the Rebels made good on their opportunities – Jenkins, Gathers and McClue went a combined 9-for-9 from the line in the final minute to close things out.

In doing so, the Rebels enjoy a continued winning streak entering the Christmas holidays.

“After those first two losses, we decided to learn from them,” said Gathers. “We didn’t want to lose any more games. Now we’ve won 11 straight, and it comes back to hard work and desire.”