MONROE — After a year off, the Riverside Rebels are once again on top of the basketball world in Class 2A.
Behind 15 points from senior forward Cory Costanza, the Rebels defeated St. Thomas Aquinas 60-49 to capture the Class 2A state championship Saturday afternoon at ULM’s Fant-Ewing Coliseum.
“I thought in the first half we played really good defense,” Rebels coach Timmy Byrd said. “I was really proud of our defense, and I thought we were really stingy.
“We did a really good job at stopping them and getting some easy baskets.
In the second half, we got into some foul trouble so it didn’t allow us to play as tight of defense as we wanted. However, you have to give St. Thomas Aquinas credit; they played a tough game throughout. To our kids’ credit, they took their best punch. I’m just really proud of our team.”
Taking control of the game early, Riverside (28-5) broke out to a 12-3 lead and increased it to as much as 12 points in the first half.
STA (27-7) stayed close late in the second half and led 44-42 with 5:21 to go in the game after a pair of Walker free throws. However, with the game tied at 47 with 3:09 to go, Riverside went on a 7-0 run behind back-to-back 3-pointers by Costanza to take a 54-47 lead.
That all but put the game out of reach.
“Our kids have been in this situation so many times,” Byrd said. “They didn’t panic, because they have so much experience playing really good teams and being in pressure moments. When the game was tied that late, it was like the light bulb went off for our team.”
St. Thomas Aquinas was led by Vincent Walker, who had a game-high 17 points. Kaylan Richardson added 11 for the Falcons. Herb McGee chipped in 13 and Charvon Julien had 11 for the Rebels.
“I think (Saturday’s) game was evidence why I’m so proud of this team,” Gauff said. “We were down as much as 12 points in the first half, and the game was not going the way we wanted from a game-plan standpoint and how we talked about heading into the matchup.
“I think in the third quarter you saw the effort that this team was capable of, and we started playing like I knew how we could play and how we played all year long.
“I don’t think we were out of gas late in the game when (Riverside) went on their run. You just have to give them credit for hitting big shots. We turned the game into the tempo that we wanted in the second half, but they had some players make some big shots. We just thought that if we could attack and get the game we wanted, we would have a great chance to win this ballgame.”
“ It is a high-risk, high-reward game plan that we have. They just made us pay.”