Julien’s shot lifts Rebels to brink of 3rd title

Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, March 5, 2013



HAMMOND – Riverside basketball coach Timmy Byrd said Saturday’s Class 2A matchup with University Lab gave him “a sick feeling” in the pit of his stomach, the veteran coach harboring concerns that his team might be emotionally flat after an emotional quarterfinal victory over archrival John Curtis three days earlier.

At the end of the day, though, Rebels’ point guard Von Julien knew it was his game to win.

Julien provided the game-winning basket with 5.4 seconds remaining in overtime Saturday, propelling the Rebels to a 64-62 victory over University and into the Class 2A championship game next week.

Riverside (26-5) will face St. Thomas Aquinas (27-5) Saturday in Monroe. STA rallied late to defeat Winnfield Saturday, 49-45, in the other 2A semifinal. Riverside will be playing in its fourth consecutive state championship game and gunning to claim its third state championship over that span.

With the game tied at 62 in overtime, Riverside held for a late shot and Julien took the ball to the basket, converting a contested layup with 5.4 remaining on the clock.

“Coach said that we needed to take some time off the clock and keep (University) moving on defense,” said Julien. “He didn’t specify who was supposed to take, because he felt like any of us who had the ball in that spot could make a play. I had it with about 10 seconds left and thought I had a good matchup.

“They didn’t help down, so I couldn’t kick it out, and I was able to get the floater.

Julien sealed things for good when he stole a long University inbounds pass.

It was the third time this season that Riverside won a game with a late go-ahead basket, with Herb McGee and Cory Costanza sinking Salmen and St. Augustine, respectively.

The game went to overtime after University’s Wayde Sims dunked in a putback of a Skylar Mays miss as time expired in regulation.  The Cubs erased a late 3-point Riverside lead after forcing three Rebel turnovers in the final two minutes.

Julien finished with 15 points and seven assists. Malik Crowfield scored 14 while Jordan Andrews and Costanza each scored 12.

Sims scored 22 points and grabbed 13 rebounds for University. Jalen Johnson added 15 points and nine rebounds. The two Cub big men combined to shoot 14 for 21.

The game was a rematch from a Jan. 11 game at University that saw RA beat the Cubs (28-3) decisively, 72-44.

That fact, along with the circumstances of his team’s win over Curtis, led to Byrd’s worries. The Rebels put together their best offensive performance of the season to all but vanquish nemesis and then-defending state champion Curtis in the first half of the quarterfinals.

Byrd said that he was proud of his players for “finding a way to win,” but said that he felt his team had a major emotional letdown.

“I’m very thankful that we won, because we shouldn’t have won it,” said Byrd. “This matchup made me nervous from the start … We didn’t play with the same intensity (as Tuesday). Hat’s off to University, they came out with a great plan and their kids gave us everything we could handle.

“In a way, we’ve been spoiled, because these kids execute so well on a regular basis. You can’t expect them to be a machine, but they’ve played like one over the last month-plus. I’m proud of these kids and this team, but I’m not proud of how we played tonight.”

In the first game, RA outrebounded University. But this time, University’s height advantage came into play, as the Cubs won the battle of the boards 36-24 and notched 16 offensive rebounds.

But Riverside continued its hot perimeter shooting, making nine three pointers to University’s three. The Rebels also sank all nine of their free throws.

“That was our saving grace,” said Byrd. “Our outside shooting and foul shooting.”

Offensively, Riverside shot 44.7 percent, a healthy number given its 27 3-point attempts. But Byrd, nor his players, were happy about the Rebels’ defensive intensity. University also shot 44.9 percent for the game and got to the line for 21 free throw attempts, making 15.

 “We took them too lightly,” said Julien. “We can’t do that if we want to win a championship.”

U-High coach Joe Spencer said that the prior experience of playing the Rebels was a positive.

“I don’t think we were ready for that game,” said Spencer. “I don’t know that we grasped exactly how good they were, in terms of how many of their guys can really hurt you … We knew we couldn’t take away everything, but we did a good job of taking away some of the things they like to do.”

Costanza played the final stretch of the game and overtime with four fouls, but remained in for the duration.

That was key, as he made 4 of his 7 3-point attempts.

“I knew I just had to play smart,” he said. “Play hard, but play smart. It was a big arena and crowd, so I just had to focus on not getting caught up in that and picking up a stupid foul.”

Riverside led by nine in each of the second and third quarters, but each time University closed the gap.

The Cubs had tied the game at 48 by the end of the third on a deep 3-pointer by Henry Shortess.

Andrews and Deuce Wallace each canned 3’s early in the fourth to make it a 54-50 RA lead, and a runner by Julien made it 56-51. Buckets by Sims and Johnson closed the gap to one, but a tip in by Crowfield made it 58-55.

But with Riverside attempting to run the clock down with less than two minutes left, the Rebels committed three costly turnovers leading to two Johnson 3-pointers and Sims’ tying dunk attempt.

“Our focus just wasn’t there,” said Byrd.

In overtime, Herb McGee scored to put RA ahead by two before Sims tied the game with another putback dunk.

With 1:24 left, Andrews made one of the night’s big defensive plays, coming up with a steal.

This time, the Rebels were able to successfully kill much of the clock. Then Julien took care of the rest.

With just one senior and a rotation filled otherwise with sophomores and freshmen, Riverside has arrived in the title game ahead of schedule.

“Our puppies are dogs now,” said Byrd. “But they’re gonna have to be pitbulls to win a state championship.”