Rebels finish in semis of ‘Palms’ tourney

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 24, 2011



FORY MYERS, Fla. — Riverside made a national splash this week with their performance in the highly touted City of the Palms tournament, finishing as a semifinalist and scoring two victories — one coming over USA Today’s second-ranked team in the nation.

The Rebels (10-3) played four teams ranked in the top 25. It’s two losses came against teams that will likely be ranked in the top 10 of the next national poll.

“I’m real proud of the fight our kids showed,” said Riverside coach Timmy Byrd. “We weren’t favored, or even picked to win any games in this tournament. We’re very disappointed that we didn’t win, given how close we came …but I think at the end of the day, our kids now believe and see that if they play together and limit mistakes, they can beat anyone in the country.”

Riverside defeated No. 2 Miller Grove 59-55 in the tourney’s second game, in the process advancing to the semifinals. Riverside big man Ricardo Gathers went head to head with the country’s No. 4 ranked player, Tony Parker, and finished with 19 points and 15 rebounds. Parker finished with 14 and 6. Donald Thomas had 15 points and made three of three shots from 3-point range. Zelvin Smith had nine points and 12 rebounds.

The Rebels held Miller Grove to 33 percent shooting from the field (compared to RA’s mark of 45). It jumped out to a 20-7 lead after a quarter, but Miller Grove slowly cut into that lead outscoring Riverside 19-14 and 9-8 in the second and third quarters respectively. But the rally came up short.

“That’s likely the biggest win in the history of our school,” said Byrd, who also ranked it among the top wins throughout his coaching tenure.

It did come at a price, though, said Byrd. As Gathers and Parker battled in a gritty, physical contest, the clash wore both down for the coming games.

“University of Florida coach) Billy Donovan was there, and he said that he thought that game was more physical than the game (Florida) played against Texas A&M that day,” said Byrd. “Those two gave all they had, and when you’re dealing with such big bodies down low … it might take you a week to recover. He played like a beast for the first two games, but Rico had nothing left in the tank after that. Neither did (Parker) … they dropped the next two.”

Riverside advanced to face eventual tourney champion Prestonwood, which defeated the Rebels 71-66.

RA led by one with three minutes remaining, but a steal by Julius Randle led to a Prestonwood basket. A big hinderance to the Rebels’ chances was a ongoing struggle at the foul line. RA missed six free throws in the final three minutes, including the front end of two one and ones.

It shot just 35 percent from the foul line for the game.

Gathers finished with 13 points and nine rebounds. John Lewis led the Rebels with 15 points, including four 3’s. Thomas scored 13, Smith 12 and Lucas Martin 10.

“Our other starters really stepped up,” said Byrd. “We felt good about our chances once we got the lead. We wanted to hold it for a late shot … we felt we could get a layup otherwise, because they’re so big and would have to extend. But it didn’t play out for us.”

Randle, one of the top junior recruits in the country, scored 31 to lead Prestonwood, which shot 65-percent for the game.

Prestonwood got out to a sizeable lead early but the Rebels got back in it via their defensive press, forcing 17 turnovers to just seven of their own.

The third place game saw Riverside fall 92-80 to Monteverde.

Gathers had 12 points and 11 rebounds. Thomas and Smith each scored 12. Martin and Lewis each scored 10.

Michael Frazier scored 19 for Monteverde, which led by 27 after three quarters.

“We had nothing left. We left it all on the floor (in the semifinal),” said Byrd. “Monteverde has nine Division I guys, and they played very well.”

The Rebels kicked off their tournament performance with an 80-73 victory over St. Bernard in two overtimes.

Riverside led 22-17 after a quarter, but St. Bernard was able to slow the game down and outscore RA 11-2 in the second quarter.

The teams were tied at 57 after regulation and at 66 after the first overtime before RA outscored St. Bernard 14-7 in the final frame.

Gathers scored 26 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.

Martin scored 16 to go with six rebounds and four assists. Thomas scored 15 with four 3’s, Von Julien scored 11 and Lewis scored 10.

Dominic Hoffman and Alex Mitola led St. Bernard with 22 and 21 points respectively.

Byrd said he felt the tournament gave his younger players, like freshman Von Julien and eighth grader Kahlea Turner, extremely valuable experience.

The Rebels now turn to another huge tourney, the Les Schwab Invitational in Oregon that runs Dec. 26-30. Riverside is seeded second behind Oak Hill Academy.

If RA advances to the final or the consolation game, their final game will be televised on ESPN.