So close, yet so far. Riverside's senior boys saw their season come to a heartbreaking end when the Turrell Rockets rallied from a nine-point halftime deficit to stun the Rebels 48-43 in the regional tournament semifinals Friday night at Marked Tree, sending the Rockets to next week's Class AA State Tournament at Centerpoint.
Riverside broke out front early when Zac Reynolds nailed the first of his five first half three-pointers to give the Rebels a 3-0 lead that they would hang onto until the 5:15 mark in the final quarter. That's when junior Demorseya Sims hit the first of back-to-back treys to give the Rockets their first lead of the game, 37-34.
Matt Owens, who led the Rebels with 22 points, then scored on an inside basket to pull the Rebels back to within one, 37-36, with 3:50 remaining in the game. Following a Turrell turnover, Zac Reynolds gave the Rebels their last lead of the game, 38-37, with 2:12 left. Riverside then suffered a major blow when 6-3 junior Zack Ridge fouled out at the 1:52 mark, and 10 seconds later Sims hit his second straight three-pointer to give the Rockets the lead for good, 40-38.
Reynolds, who finished the night with 19 points, had a 15-foot jumper rim out and Turrell senior Joe Gibson drove the length of the floor for a lay-up and was fouled with 1:15 to go in the game. Gibson connected on the free throw to complete the three point play and Turrell had a five point advantage, 43-38.
The Rebels made one last charge as Owens hit a driving basket with 56.7 seconds to go and was fouled. Owens made the foul shot and the Rebels were within two, 43-41. Then came the biggest sequence of the game. Owens stole the ball from Joe Gibson, but the Rocket point guard got the ball back, fed a pass to Derris Hopkins, who was fouled by Von McDaniel with 34.9 seconds remaining. Hopkins was good on both charity tosses to put Turrell back up 45-41.
Reynolds then raced down the floor and nailed a jumper from 15 feet out to pull the Rebels to within 45-43 with .26 to go. The Rebels employed full-court pressure and almost forced a 10-second violation, but the Rockets got a time out to set up the final frantic seconds. Gibson got the inbounds pass, broke the press, and darted the length of the floor, hitting a lay-up while being fouled with 8.8 seconds to go. Gibson made the free throw to complete the three point play and seal the victory 48-43, as the Rebels threw up one last desperation shot that bounced off the rim.
The Rebels controlled the first quarter and led 16-7 when Owens scored on a five-foot bank shot to end the first quarter. Riverside continued to control the game in the second period behind the outside shooting of Reynolds and the inside punch of Owens. When Reynolds nailed a trey at the buzzer, Riverside had a 29-20 lead going into the dressing room.
Adidus Cooper, who led the Rockets with 15 points, got Turrell off to a hot start beginning the third quarter by nailing a 25-foot trey to make the score 29-23. Owens then answered with Riverside's only basket of the third period to give the Rebels a 31-23 advantage. Following Owens' bucket, momentum swung Turrell's way as the Rockets employed a tenacious man-to-man defense as the Rebels could manage only one more point in the quarter. This gave the Rockets the opportunity they were looking for as they cut into the Rebel lead and pulled to within 32-29 entering the final frame.
"The key to the game was our man-to-man defense in the second half," said Rocket coach Irving Clay. "We contested every shot and made them work hard for everything they got. Another big key for us was at halftime, I kept my team out on the floor. I wanted the crowd to think the game was over with and have my team feel the electricity in the crowd. I knew we had to play man-to-man and start to make some shots. We executed our offense and we were patient. I thought the Rebels shot the ball as well as they could in the first half. I knew their legs were going to go sooner or later. And when it counted, we made our free throws down the stretch and that sealed the victory," concluded Clay.
Riverside coach Buster Campbell said his team played their hearts out and just couldn't get shots to fall in the second half. "Cooper hurt us the whole game. We did not do a good job on him. He got it off real quick. They stepped up and hit some big shots," Campbell said
Campbell went on to praise his team. "We have had a tremendous year. My kids are heartbroken. We got beat by a good team, but we didn't quit. We hung in there, but we got a little tight in the second half. We didn't shoot our free throws well. I felt like when we got the lead we started to play not to lose. I've coached a long time and there hasn't been too many bunches I've been prouder of than this group. I have a special group of seniors. They are all good kids. I just wish we could have gone a little further. A lot of people would like to be where we've been with a 27-9 record. It's a very, very tough loss, but we'll recover. We played hard,," added Campbell.
"We played hard, we just couldnt get our shots to fall in the second half like we did in the first. I thought we tensed up in the end," said senior forward Alex Smith.
The only other Rebel to score besides the Owens-Reynolds tandem was Zack Ridge, who scored two points. Riverside managed only 4-10 from the free throw line and was held without a three-pointer in the second half. The Rebels managed to hit only 6-16 shots in the final half of play.
Turrell hit six treys on the night including four in the last half and also hit a torrid 14-17 from the free throw line. The Rockets improved to 22-6 with the victory.
Riverside reached the regional semifinals by rolling over the Earle Bulldogs 69-56 Thursday night at Indian Gym.
The number nine team in the state in Class AA cruised to an 18-6 first quarter lead and then rode the scoring of senior all-conference guard Matt Owens to take a 38-27 lead at the half.
The Bulldogs, who finished their season 15-12 on the year, used four three-pointers in the third quarter to pull within four, 50-46, before junior Zac Reynolds went coast-to-coast to put the Rebels back up by six, and Earle could get no closer the rest of the way.
Earle had no answer for Owens, who led all scorers with 27 points. Owens also had 12 rebounds and eight assists. Reynolds added 13 points to go along with seven assists and four steals, while Zack Ridge also hit double figures with 10 points, while adding seven rebounds and three blocked shots. Senior guard Michael Dewitt had eight, while senior forward Alex Smith contributed seven points and six rebounds. Tyler Timms and Von McDaniel came off the bench to net two points apiece to round out the Rebel attack.
Johnny Williams led Earle with 21 points, the only Bulldog to score in double figures.
Owens and Reynolds were both named to the Region 4-AA tournament team.