Rebels seek 4th state title, Caddo awaits
Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, March 11, 2014
By RYAN ARENA
LAPLACE — Only time will tell where the 2013-14 Riverside Rebels ultimately will rank among the most dominant teams Timmy Byrd has coached in his career.
But if these Rebels can bank two more victories at this year’s Top 28 tournament in Lake Charles, they’ll certainly rank near the top.
The defending 2A champions ride a 26-game winning streak into their Thursday state semifinal matchup against North Caddo (tipoff scheduled for 1 p.m. at Burton Coliseum) and have largely dominated their competition over that span.
Riverside has won its three playoff games by margins of 62, 27 and 53 points. Their 26 straight wins have come by an average margin of 23.9 points per game, and their last seven wins have all come by 27 points or more.
Riverside holds wins over Country Day, St. James (twice), University Lab (twice), Landry-Walker, St. Thomas More and Northside while it’s lone loss in state came to Scotlandville: the Rebels are 8-1 against Top 28 tournament qualifiers.
Perhaps as importantly as anything, this Riverside team is full of players with championship experience. Only 2013 senior Cory Costanza — last year’s Class 2A championship game MVP — is gone from last year’s squad.
“This team is a year older, a year bigger, faster and stronger,” said Riverside coach Timmy Byrd, who earned his 10th state championship as a head coach last season. “And we’ve developed an incredible amount of depth.”’
While starters Von Julien, Herb McGee, Malik Crowfield, Jordan Andrews and Deuce Wallace are familiar names to last season’s title run, the Rebels bench has proven much more than capable when called upon. Riverside puts more pressure on defensively than it did a season ago, and Byrd has not been averse to subbing as many as five reserves to play together after a taxing defensive sequence.
Joe Anderson, Curtis Thomas, Jacorey Haynes, Darrion Cook, Jared Butler and Jalen Banks have all earned considerable rotation time this season, and Byrd said he also has no qualms about calling Jake Venus or Kendall Martin into action.
“I feel like we’ve got 13 guys who can all deliver when called upon,” said Byrd.
Of late, Thomas has impressed the coach with his hustle. Anderson is the team’s most physical interior player. And Butler and Banks, both 8th graders, have opened eyes at a young age.
“Jared Butler is actually our leading scorer per minute,” said Byrd of his backup point guard. “He’s blended in extremely well when we mix him in with the starting five.”
North Caddo (12-18) has been the shocker of Class 2A this postseason, the No. 27 seed reaching the semifinals after pulling a trio of upsets, most recently shocking 2013 state runner-up St. Thomas Aquinas in the quarterfinals, 72-45. That followed wins over Opelousas Catholic and Doyle in the first two rounds. North Caddo has won nine of its past 13 games.
Caddo, also nicknamed the Rebels, thrives on an attack centered around 6-foot-7 big man Robert Williams and top guard Jontaveon Brooks.
Byrd scouted the North Caddo/St. Thomas Aquinas game and came away impressed.
“They’re not a real 28 seed,” said Byrd, noting that North Caddo only had its team at full strength over the regular season’s final stretch.
“(Williams) is the best big we’ve seen this year and they’ve got a really good point guard. They’re one of those north Louisiana teams. They’re athletic and they like to run.”
Byrd said that the job of slowing Williams will likely fall upon Herb McGee, Riverside’s top defensive player. While Williams plays a traditional center position defensively, he’s an adept ballhandler who plays more of a wing or guard’s game on offense.
When Riverside has the ball, meanwhile, Williams’ ability to protect the rim is the Rebels’ concern. Williams blocked 12 shots in the team’s regional round win against Doyle, and Byrd commented that the center shut down the lane against St. Thomas Aquinas.
“We’re gonna attack him,” said Byrd. “We’ve got the players to go right at him. We want to put pressure on him and if he blocks some shots, fine. But make him do that and pick up some fouls in the process.”