Riverside rallies for Sugar Bowl crown

Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, January 8, 2013



WESTWEGO — Riverside basketball coach Timmy Byrd had a gleam in his eye as he spoke of his team’s latest accomplishment Saturday night.

“This team,” he mused, “is just a lot of fun to coach.”

Fun to watch too, most would likely agree after watching the Rebels score an exciting 72-66 victory over Sheldon of California in the championship game of the Allstate Sugar Bowl National Prep Classic, a game that saw Riverside rally to win after falling behind 17-3 in the first quarter of play.

It is the first time in the tournament’s three-year history that Riverside has won the Classic.

On paper, it also may have been the most unlikely of the three Rebel squads to win, one sporting a rotation peppered with youth.

“We talked about David and Goliath before this game. Nobody gave us a chance,” said Byrd. “Sheldon is arguably one of the 20 best teams in the nation … This has to be one of the most unexpected wins in Riverside history, and any team that I’ve coached.

“Sheldon is arguably a top 20 team in the country, and we won tonight with a group of freshman and sophomores, with one senior. The only guys that expected for us to win tonight were the guys in our locker room.”

Rebels sophomore point guard Von Julien captured tournament MVP honors, capping his Sugar Bowl performance with his best game of the competition: a 22 point, five assist effort that saw him shoot an efficient 7 of 11 from the field and 7 of 9 at the foul line.

“He showed tonight that he’s arguably the best point guard in the state of Louisiana,” said Byrd. “You can make the case for it.

He took us on his back and played like a true point guard. At times, he reminded me of D.J. Augustin. That’s what he looked like out there.”

Julien said that the tournament win is a big lift as Riverside (13-3) heads into district play this week.

“It shows us that we can be unstoppable if we put the work in and have the right attitude,” said Julien. “That team has some big recruits, and we beat them. That gives us a big confidence boost.”

Herb McGee scored 17 points and dished out five assists. Malik Crowfield scored 15. Jordan Andrews scored 12 and Corey Costanza added six. Costanza and Andrews each hit a pair of 3-pointers.

Crowfield was named to the All-Tournament Team along with Julien.

It was the second comeback of the tourney for Riverside, which trailed St. Augustine by 13 at halftime in the tournament quarterfinals.

“We can put five guys on the floor that can all do great things offensively,” said Byrd. “What makes this team special is we really put five guys out there who can all play guard.”

Dakarai Allen led Sheldon (9-4) with 22 points and five assists. Darin Johnson scored 21 and D’erryl Williams scored 12.

While a bigger Sheldon team controlled the paint, outscoring Riverside 35-16 inside, the difference for the Rebels largely came behind the 3-point arc. Riverside canned 10 of 22 3-pointers, compared to a 4 of 16 mark for Sheldon. McGee hit four threes for RA, while Costanza and Andrews each canned two.

The Rebels led by just one entering the final four minutes of play, 58-57, leading to a tense finish.

Crowfield drew a foul and sunk a pair of free throws to push Riverside ahead 60-57. Lewis responded with a bucket for Sheldon. Crowfield again pushed the Rebel lead when he made a layup off of a dish from Andrews — that bucket came after a key defensive play by Julien when he forced a Sheldon turnover, deflecting a ball off of Johnson.

Sheldon called upon Allen to attempt to shift the momentum; he responded with a basket and a foul, sinking a free throw to convert a game-tying 3-point play.

Andrews pushed Riverside back ahead by two with a basket at the other end. Then Julien came up with another key play, driving hard to the basket where he made a layup and drew a foul. He converted his own 3-point play for RA, pushing the Rebels ahead 67-62 with 1:12 remaining.

That was the beginning of the end for Sheldon. A Johnson 3 clanged off the rim, and Andrews made two free throws. Riverside forced a Sheldon turnover with 53 seconds left, all but ensuring a Rebels coronation as Sugar Bowl champs.

Sheldon looked to be in complete control early in the game. A pair of 3-point plays by Allen helped Sheldon run out to an 8-0 start. A Johnson 3 from the wing made it 13-1 before a third bucket-and-one by Allen gave his team a 17-3 advantage.

“Coach fussed at us during that timeout,” said Julien. “We had to start finding their shooters, especially (Johnson). There were a couple of guys who didn’t want to shoot from outside, so we sagged off them and adjusted.”

McGee gave the Rebels some life by canning consecutive 3’s to make it 18-9 after the first.

“Herb McGee was really the guy that stepped up and got us back in the game,” said Byrd. “He made some really big shots to get us going.”

Said McGee, “Someone had to step up. It happened to be me at that point. After that, everyone followed up.”

Sheldon led 23-13 a couple of minutes into the second quarter, but the lead was gone by halftime. Costanza nailed a 3 from the wing at the 5:11 mark. Julien scored a layup in transition to make it 23-18. Ryan Manning made a layup for Sheldon, then Andrews returned fire with a corner 3 that made it 25-21.

Consecutive Crowfield 3-pointers tied the game at 27, then he tied it again at 29 on a tough, off-balance leaning jumper.

“He’s unstoppable when he gets going,” said McGee.

With Riverside trailing by one, Julien finished the half off with flare, faking a pass before finishing a drive to the hoop, converting a show-and-go layup to make it a 31-30 Rebel halftime lead.

“This team is showing that it’s not just a skilled group, but a mentally and physically tough one,” said Byrd. “They refused to back down.”