After a week of snow, ice, rolling blackouts and water outages, fans were ready to get out of their houses and watch some playoff basketball. Playing to a packed house at Prairiland, the sixth-ranked Rivercrest Rebels turned in a dominating performance to defeat the Cooper Bulldogs for the bi-district championship 83 - 47.
The first quarter was not pretty as both teams struggled to put the ball in the hoop and knock off the rust after being out of the gym for a week. However, it didn’t take long for Rivercrest head coach Quincy English’s Rebels to thaw out.
Cooper won the opening tip but the Rebels forced turnovers on the first four Bulldog possessions. A swift side pass from Damian Davidson to Darrion Ricks opened the scoring for Rivercrest.
After multiple misses by the Rebels under the goal, Cooper freshman Markel Smith rebounded and got it in the hands of Chase Morales who knocked down a jump shot in the lane.
“Our plan was to come out and jump on them early and get a big lead,” English said about his Rebels. “It didn’t work out that way. Our big problem was we couldn’t score early in the game.”
Rivercrest set up their offense and Kamryn English found Zachariah Lane under the goal. Lane was hammered and went to the foul line where he spent much of his time during the game. Lane would go on to make 12 of 14 free shots by the end of the night.
A big block by Cooper’s Colin Ingram allowed Jayden Limbaugh to get out front for a fast break and another Bulldog basket. Cooper coach Lee Valdez’s Bulldogs kept it close during the first quarter until Rivercrest’s sixth man John Grider took the floor.
Grider provided the shot in the arm the Rebels needed. He snagged an offensive rebound and had a put-back basket. He followed that up with another rebound-score combo and then had a driving left hook bucket.
Cooper’s Jaxson McGuire and Smith both scored in the paint for Cooper, but by then the Rebel offense was clicking.
The second quarter was all Rivercrest as they outscored the Bulldogs 22-9. The Rebels produced steals and easy layups by Lane and Kamryn English. Ricks scored on a jumper and Lane scored off an offensive rebound. Rivercrest went on a 13-0 run as they caught another gear.
The Bulldogs kept hustling though and showed true heart. McGuire banked one in and Ingram scored on a put-back. Kamryn English swished the only 3-pointer of the night for the Rebs and Cooper answered back with scores from Ingram and Morales.
The Bulldogs seemed unable to stop fouling though, and the Rebels took full advantage at the charity line. The half-time buzzer showed the Rebs with a 36-22 lead.
Rivercrest came out in a furor to start the second half, creating chaos defensively that led to steals by Davidson and Kamryn English that were converted to scores by Bradyn English and Lane.
Limbaugh showed some skills as he canned a running jumper at the elbow and scored on a beautiful back-door basket. Rebel point guard Davidson snatched a rebound and found Grider for a long pass and easy basket. Bradyn English scored on a layup and the Rebels had the Bulldogs on the ropes and frustrated. By the end of the third quarter, Rivercrest had started putting the nails in the coffin, 65-31.
The final period went quickly as the lead stretched for the Rebels. Cooper never quit and extreme effort was given by their senior captain, Limbaugh. He deposited nine fourth quarter points, including a three-pointer.
“He’s the cornerstone of our team and has been a pleasure to coach. He’s one of our natural basketball players,” Valdez said after the game. “We had a lot of adversity this season because of Covid and didn’t have our full team until district started. It was a hard season but our kids fought through it and played hard. It’s our first time to make the playoffs in eight years, so that’s a good achievement for this young squad.”
The Rebels took the opportunity to get all their players in for some experience. Eli Bivins went three of four at the free throw line and Grider tossed in a pair of baskets from the post position. At the end of the night, the Rebels shot 78% rate at the free throw line, tossing in 32 out of 41.
“Once we settled down in the second quarter, things started happening for us,” Quincy English added. “We came out of the halftime locker room and wore them down with defense. They were tired and started making some bad passes so we could finally put the game away,”
Limbaugh led his Bulldogs with 15 points followed by McGuire who added nine. Morales tallied seven points and Noah Ramos scored six.
For the Rebels, Lane turned in 22 points and Kamryn English added 15. Grider notched 14 points while Ricks scored 12 and Bradyn English had 10.
Rivercrest moves to 22-2 and will play Honey Grove in the area round at Paris High School on Tuesday.