HAMMOND — Listening to the coaches after the first Class 2A boys basketball semifinal game of The Advocate/LHSAA Southeast Regional, it might have been difficult to tell which team won.
Riverside got a basket from Charvon Julien with four seconds left in overtime for a 64-62 win over University High at Southeastern Louisiana University’s University Center on Saturday and will face St. Thomas Aquinas, which hit a major bump in the road midway through the fourth quarter but stayed the course for a 49-45 win over Winnfield to advance to the state championship game next week.
RIVERSIDE ACADEMY 64, UNIVERSITY LAB 62, OT: The game’s outcome left Riverside coach Timmy Byrd giving thanks for his team’s good luck.
“I didn’t like the matchup from the beginning,” Byrd said. “I’m proud of these kids. I’m proud of this team, but I’m not proud of the way we played this game.
“Of course I’m thankful, but I still don’t know how we won.”
The best explanation of the Rebels’ win was in the final statistical line. They scored nine 3-pointers and were 9-for-9 from the free-throw line.
“We didn’t play defense, we didn’t rebound, and we didn’t execute our offense,” Byrd said. “Von (Julien) and Cory Costanza and Malik Crowfield were solid for us, and the 3’s and free throws bailed us out.”
Riverside (27-5) had four players in double figures led by Julien (15). Crowfield added 14, and Costanza and Jordan Andrews each had 12.
The teams scored only seven combined points in the last 3:55 of regulation. Riverside turned the ball over three times in the final 1:35, but Andrews put his team ahead 60-58 with seven seconds to go before Sims tied it at the buzzer with a slam dunk putback of a missed layup attempt by Skylar Mays.
U-High (30-3) repeated the same play to score their only points in overtime to tie the score at 62 but couldn’t convert a last-second play after Andrews made a steal, and Julien scored the game-winning basket.
“Coach didn’t tell us who should take the last shot,” Julien said. “He just said run 4-out and take some time off the clock. I thought I had a good matchup, and I didn’t have anyone to dish it off to, so I took the shot.”
Sims led the Cubs with 22 points and 13 rebounds, followed by Jalen Johnson with 15 and D.J. White with 12.
Usually reliable 3-point shooter Henry Shortess had an off night, going 2-10 from beyond the arc.
White gave the Cubs an early offensive spark with seven first-quarter points, but the Rebels led 18-16 after one quarter.
Sims got off to a hot start in the second quarter, scoring the Cubs’ first five points, and his free throw pulled them within to 31-29, but Costanza’s 3-pointer with 35 seconds left gave the Rebels a 34-29 halftime lead.
Herb McGee’s jumper at 4:41 of the third quarter gave Riverside a 43-33 lead, but U-High put together a 15-5 run to knot the score at 48 to set the stage for the fourth quarter.
“We finally got some stops,” U-High coach Joe Spencer said. “We’ve been down before in games this year, and I knew these kids wouldn’t quit.
“I’m really proud of my guys. Riverside has so many weapons, so many guys that can shoot it from outside. For 34 minutes of the game, we held our own.”
ST. THOMAS AQUINAS 49, WINNFIELD 45: STA (27-5) and Winnfield (25-8) battled back and forth for 28 minutes and were tied at 36 when Winnfield exploded for seven points in two straight possessions within 42 seconds.
George Page ignited the explosion with a 3-point play. LSU football signee Michael Patterson followed that with a steal, which turned into a 4-point play when Evan Smith hit a 3-pointer and a free throw after being fouled by Julian Brumfield.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, that would be their final points until a meaningless layup at the buzzer cut the final margin to four.
Brumfield more than atoned for his foul on Smith by scoring nine points in the final 3:16 to lead the Falcons’ comeback. His free throw with 55 seconds left put them ahead 44-43, and they never trailed again.
“They just found a way to get it done,” STA coach Errol Gauff said. “Since the second round of the playoffs ,we’ve talked about L-I-G. Let It Go. Don’t do anything passive. And, boy, for the last couple of minutes, they did that. The faith they have in each other was on display.
“It’s in their DNA. Whatever the situation, they’re not going to quit.”
A large part of STA’s success came from limiting Page, Winnfield’s top offensive threat, 10 points.
Gauff credited their zone defense with its backside help for that, but gave most of the credit to 6-foot senior Vincent Walker.
“In practice, he said he wanted to do it, that he was ready for the challenge,” Gauff said, “and I think he did a great job.”
Walker also had a double-double on offense with 15 points and 13 rebounds.
Marcus Hardwell (11 points) joined Page in double figures for Winnfield.