Rebels thrive in win over physical Eagles

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 13, 2010



LAFAYETTE – On the football field, Evangel has few peers. Making its first appearance at the Top 28 Boys basketball tournament on Wednesday, the Eagles tried to carry those successes – and that mentality – over to the hardwood.

But on the court, Riverside is king — and now only one more win away from being crowned as such, officially.

Just as they did in their quarterfinal win, the Rebels roared in the second half to turn a relatively small halftime lead into a decisive 75-49 Class 2A semifinal triumph at the Cajundome over the fifth-seeded Eagles.

Top-seeded Riverside (34-6) is set to play Jonesboro-Hodge in the Class 2A championship game at 5 p.m. today.

The physicality of the game was likened to a football contest by Riverside coach Timmy Byrd, who said the game’s loose officiating was probably to Evangel’s advantage — but also that he had zero complaints.

“We knew they’d be very physical,” said Byrd. “We knew we were up against a athletic team with a winning mentality. They came out swinging, and our guys didn’t back down.

“If they could make it a mudfest, that was probably to their advantage, given their football mentality. Given the choice, though, we’d rather the refs let us play, and allow our guys to stay active and in the game.”

Center Ricardo Gathers quipped that he was surprised when the game ended and he had no fouls.

“Every time I went up for a rebound, there was this guy coming, that guy coming…they push you and you push back. You can’t complain, though. You come in as the top dog, and everyone comes with their best game,” Gathers said.

Byrd said his 6-foot-7 big man could handle the physicality.

“We’ve got a manchild in Rico,” Byrd said. “But he can’t do it himself.”

He didn’t have to. Gathers, who finished with 22 points, 14 rebounds and six blocked shots, had plenty of help. It was senior Cedric Jenkins who led the team in scoring with 25 points, and sophomore Louis Dabney added 18 more.

Jenkins hit five 3-pointers and scored 10 of his team’s 23 third-quarter points as the Rebels began to pull away.

“He’s one of the best shooters in the nation, and he proved it tonight,” said Byrd.

Riverside hit nine of its 22 3-point attempts, including three makes by Gathers.

“We knew they shoot it well,” said Evangel coach Reni Mason. “But when you’re playing a guy that’s 6-foot-7, who’s probably going to be one of the nation’s top recruits, you have to pick your poison. And they clicked on all cylinders.”

Evangel (28-6) stuck with Riverside early. After falling behind by eight after the first quarter, the Eagles cut the lead to two, 23-21, on a pull-up shot by Devin George.

Riverside pulled ahead by eight again at the half on 3’s by Jenkins and Franklin Francois — the latter coming off of a steal and heave to the basket with time expiring in the second quarter.

It shifted momentum for good. Jenkins hit a layup than capped a 3 from the wing to make it 36-26.

“I felt like we needed one more push, and I wanted to give it,” said Jenkins.

Evangel answered with two Eric Thomas foul shots, but Riverside went on a quick 9-0 run to open up a 17-point lead, capped by a Gathers 3 at the 3:45 mark of the third quarter. Evangel closed to within 12, but got no closer the rest of the way.

George led Evangel with 17. Thomas added 14.

Riverside held Evangel to 31 percent shooting from the floor.

“We wanted to play as many guys as we could, get them tired, and go to a zone in the second half,” said Byrd. “We wanted them to have tired legs so they couldn’t shoot in that big, open arena.”

The plan worked, and Riverside’s off to compete for its first basketball championship.

“I don’t care about any of the credit,” said Jenkins, who is seeking his fourth state championship, but his first at Riverside. “This is 100 percent for the fans and the parents. This is all for them.”