Riley Begins Post-Reontre Lawrence Era With Slight Victory
By Korbett Koselak-Riley High School Senior
November 29th, 2016
SOUTH BEND – When Riley basketball’s Reontre Lawrence graduated in the spring Coach Mark Johnson’s crew lost more than just the school’s all-time leading scorer. The Riley boys’ basketball team lost its’ leader, its’ voice, but most importantly its’ identity.
“Reontre was a program changer.” according to Johnson, and a program changer he proved to be.
Under Lawrence’s watch, Riley won two sectional titles, a regional title, and came to the brink of a state championship game appearance. Four years and 1,507 points later, the Wildcat basketball team is once again, Reontre’-less. Coming into the season with almost unattainable expectations, Riley would search for an identity in its first contest of the new year.South Bend Riley welcomed the 1-0 Michigan City Wolves into the Algie Oldham Gymnasium on Tuesday looking to start their season off on the right foot. Three of the starting five remained the same from last season in Senior point guard Junior Scott, Junior forward Damezi Anderson, and Junior forward Shamar Dillard. Seniors Nathan Marino and Roland Austin completed the entirely upperclassmen starting lineup for Johnson’s Wildcats. The Wildcats struggled early on, scoring just 13 first quarter points on numerous turnovers. Down by seven early in the second quarter, Riley found some consistency on offense and went into the half tied at 35.
Big time decisions for the Riley coaching staff in the halftime locker room. Starting big man Roland Austin was dealing with a nagging leg injury and his potential replacement in the lineup, Junior Rylen Grundy, had accumulated three first-half fouls. A smaller lineup would have left Coach Johnson without a rebounding threat, something the Cats could not afford after already having been greatly outrebounded in the first half.
In the end, whatever Johnson did in the third quarter proved to be the correct decision as the Riley Wildcats took a 56-47 lead into the fourth quarter. The offense would go cold again in the fourth quarter, mustering just 10 points. Shooting 20-26 from the stripe for the game gave the South Bend Riley Wildcats the lift they needed to leave Tuesday night the way they entered it, unbeaten.
“1-0 is a 100 million miles away from 0-1.” an excited Coach Johnson stated after the game. “It’s always better to learn after a win than it is after a loss.”
“We’re getting better,” Senior Point Guard Junior Scott said after the game, “Continue to work and grind it out, it’s going to be a grinding season, but it’s going to be a great season,” Scott continued looking forward to the future.
Junior Forward Damezi Anderson led the team with 34 points on 10-22 shooting. “Never stop shooting the ball. Always have confidence that you’re going to hit the next one.” Anderson said of his early game struggles.
The unsung hero of this contest is Senior Forward Roland Austin. Austin left the game in the second quarter with blood on his shirt for a cut on his elbow. He would come to the sideline often during the remainder of the game with what appeared to be a nagging leg injury, but his never give up attitude really defined the win for Riley. A hobbling Austin made the defensive possession of the game for the Wildcats, up two with under a minute to play, the Wolves pushed the ball into the paint and Austin blocked the game tying shot attempt then proceeded to rebound the ball. The dagger, on the defensive side.
While the 66-62 victory puts Riley at 1-0, it revealed glaring flaws in the two-time defending sectional champion. Four Riley starters fouled out in the regional loss to the Warsaw Tigers last season and two players fouled out Tuesday night. Nathan Marino and Rylen Grundy each received their fifth foul in the fourth quarter. Giving opponents many chances at the line could prove fatal down the stretch of this long season. Also, while Riley may have five players listed at 6’4” or taller, their inability to rebound is an area of weakness. Forwards who like to shoot from outside, do not provide many opportunities for second chance points and unless somebody steps up and rebounds this season, Riley will lose games simply because of the glass disadvantage.
The combination of Junior Scott and a bevy of guys who can jump out of the proverbial gym, will present many possibilities for highlight reel dunks and alley-oops, but will it win basketball games?
Twenty-one more regular season contests await the Wildcats, but for now their loss column remains empty. Final from South Bend, Indiana, South Bend Riley 66, Michigan City 62.