You would have trouble convincing the Holy Savior Menard Eagles that Riverside Academy is just a .500 team.
After getting off to a very uncharacteristic 3-8 start, the Rebels had to claw their way back, finally reaching the break-even mark.
The Rebels made it to 16-16 in emphatic fashion on Friday night, defeating visiting Menard 67-51 in the Division III quarterfinals.
“The bottom line is this is unchartered territory for us,” Riverside coach Timmy Byrd said. “It’s the first time as a coach in 24 years we’ve been .500 at this point in the season.
“This team is catching fire when they have to.”
The fire-hot Rebels advance to the Top 28 state tournament beginning next week in Lake Charles. Riverside, the No. 4 seed, will take on top-seeded Dunham at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday. Dunham won 91-47 Friday over Catholic of New Iberia, the No. 8 seed.
St. James, the River Parishes’ only other team remaining in the postseason, was overwhelmed by second-seeded Peabody 101-46 in the Class 3A quarterfinals on Friday. The Wildcats were the No. 26 seed.
The Rebels, Byrd said, are a completely different team since the start of the season.
“They were playing as individuals before and they bought into the team concept and really started believing what we were telling them. Once they started playing as a unit of five players, we play to our ability,” said Byrd.
It was a matter of the players just learning to play together as a group, according to Brian Walker.
“We had to learn each other. It’s a new team, new people. We had to learn each other and right now we are together as a team,” said Walker.
Walker was instrumental in the Rebels building their lead against Menard. He hit back-to-back three points and followed with a shorter jumper to turn a tie game into a 12-4 edge by the 2:24 mark of the first quarter. The eight-point margin gave Riverside a cushion it would never relinquish.
“The whole week our coaches had us practicing on shooting. He said we had to knock it down if we got the opportunity. When it came, I had to hit it,” said Walker.
It was on the defensive side, however, where the Rebels shined brightest.
Despite giving up quite a bit of size to Menard’s 6-foot-8 Jourdain Dishmond, Rebel defenders such as Isaiah Bigham and DeJuan Daniels kept the big sophomore center from being a real factor on either end of the game.
Dishmond finished with six points, all coming off put-backs off of offensive rebounds as the Eagles were rarely able to get the ball to him in the paint on offense.
“We just had to play aggressive – low man wins,” said Bigham. “You know you just have to box him out and keep him off the boards. As soon as you get the ball, you had to run a hook so we had to get it up quick. I noticed he had slow feet. I had to take him off the dribble.”
The Rebels also stymied Menard on the perimeter. The Eagles’ Jude Hopewell finished with 13 points, with seven coming with the fourth quarter when the game was already out of reach for Menard. That allowed Riverside to concentrate even more on Dishmond.
“As soon as we saw he (Jude Hopewell) was not hitting shots, we collapsed the middle and kept the big man off the boards,” said Bigham.
“I’m pleased with our defense. We made a few mistakes here and there but our defense has really picked up. We never had a problem on the offense end, but early in the season we weren’t playing any defense. We are now, which is giving us a chance,” Byrd said.
After Walker staked Riverside to an early lead, the Rebels went on to lead 16-9 lead after one quarter.
Two free throws by David Brevelle and his drive to the basket for two more to open the second quarter allowed Menard to cut the deficit to three points at 16-13 but that was as close as the Eagles would get the rest of the game.
Riverside led by 10 points twice in the first half, the first time at 27-17 on a put-back by Daniels with 50 seconds left in the half.
With 2.3 seconds left in the second quarter, a 3-pointer by Brevelle, who led all scorers with 24 points and was the only consistent scoring threat for Menard, allowed the Eagles to make it 29-22 at the half.
Riverside pulled away in the third quarter. Greg Larvadain, who topped the Rebels with 17 points, scored on an aggressive drive to the basket with 1:42 left in the period to open up a 20-point advantage for RA at 48-28.
The Rebels’ biggest lead of the game was 23 points when Larvadain hit a 3-pointer with 5:11 left in the game to put Riverside on top 59-36.
Along with Larvadain, Daniels chipped in 15 points for the Rebels while Walker finished with 11.
Peabody 101, St. James 46: The Wildcats saw their season come to an end with its quarterfinal loss at Peabody.
The Wildcats fell behind 27-9 after one quarter with Peabody’s Kyron Gibson leading the way. Gibson scored nine points in the quarter to equal St. James’ total as a team in the opening period.
“They took us out of our game mentally a little bit. They are a legitimate No. 2 team and they played like a No. 2 team,” St. James coach James Smith said.
The game marked the seventh time this season that the Warhorses topped 100 points in a game.
“They have a great team of shooters,” Smith said. “Offensively, it’s the pace they force you to play. When you score 100 points, we have to have an up-and-down pace. They has size on the boards. They have all the intangibles to do that.
“If they get you into their game and you don’t slow it down and they get in into an up-tempo game, that’s a no-brainer. That’s their game. They will attack from all angles.”
St. James (16-21) was led by Shamar Smith with 19 points.
Peabody (31-4) was paced by Melvion Flanagan’s 22 points. Zytavious Morite had 21 points for the Warhorses while Gibson finished with 17.
At No. 26, the Wildcats were the lowest-seeded team remaining in the playoffs out of all 12 postseason brackets
“It’s a credit to the coaches and all the efforts that they make to get the guys prepared. Our whole thing was to get the kids to buy in. We prep and get them ready, but the rest of it is the kids buying in and jell as a team right at the end,” said Smith.