While any coach will tell you they value experience, there are plenty of positives in the youthfulness of Riverside’s girls and Northern Durham’s boys basketball teams this year.
The Pirates’ girls team has few players who played key roles last year, but that didn’t stop Riverside from taking a 64-27 win against an optimistic Northern team that’s also starting over this year.
Northern’s boys have just three seniors, but there doesn’t appear to be much drop-off in this year’s group from the last several seasons. The Knights held off an inexperienced Riverside team 77-72 in the PAC-6 Conference opener for both.
After Northern (5-1, 1-0) lost to Riverside (3-3, 0-1) in all three meetings last year – twice in the regular season and once more in the second round of the playoffs – this win was bigger than most conference openers.
“It was revenge from last year,” Northern point guard Jalen Johnson said.
Northern was getting whatever shot it wanted early, leading 45-33 at halftime. But Riverside battled back to tie it in the fourth quarter before one final kick from the Knights’ outside shooters sealed the win.
Eric Stokes had 26 points (four 3s), Johnson had 18 (four 3s) and Jaylin Riley had 13.
“This is the best game we’ve played all year We kept our composure and got back into the flow of the game,” Northern coach Ronnie Russell said. “They’re competitive. We can be real good defensively, but we’ve got a ways to go yet.”
There’s a learning curve for Riverside, which has six seniors but weren’t relied on heavily last year, in the early part of thi season. The Pirates shot the ball well but had trouble defending Northern’s flex offense.
“There was moments in that third quarter when (Northern) went on that run where we could’ve folded easily,” Riverside coach Brian Strickland said. “I think Riverside three or four weeks ago would’ve caved on that. And I was proud of them for (not). Moving forward, we’ve got to get ourselves in a position where we’re not coming back like that.”
Senior Isaiah Reddish tied for a game-high 26 points and classmate Deshone Hicks had 13.
Riverside (5-2, 1-0) has just two seniors this year, and both Sophie Bischoff and Tchernavia Griffin were on junior varsity last season. The Pirates were so deep in the front court last year that Jones thought it was better for those two to develop through playing time rather than sit on the varsity bench.
“I felt like they needed the actual playing time to make them better suited for when they made it to varsity,” Riverside coach Alicia Jones said. “I think waiting and giving them that experience and that exposure, it did them a world of good.”
Junior Ashuantee Nelson, one of few returning players who started last year, had a team-high 16 points. Aijah Perry and Abria Reddish had 15 points apiece and Nala Terry had 10. Perry had a double-double with 10 rebounds.
“I’m proud of their transition,” Jones said. “We definitely have the speed. We’re still working on our defensive set, committing to it, and not being so aggressive where we get in foul trouble.”
Last season, Northern (0-6, 0-1) relied heavily on the now-graduated Rhianna Council, who averaged 25.1 points per game and was PAC-6 player of the year. The returning players were already going to have to adjust to new roles quickly, but there were few of them to begin with.
The Knights have no seniors and start two sophomores and a freshman. The game is moving a little too fast for them at times, first-year coach Tim Crutchfield said.
“They’re thinking so much right now instead of playing the game,” said Crutchfield, who has assisted the boys’ team in recent years. He continued: “I thought we did some really good things tonight. ... I see the light (at the end of the tunnel).”
Northern was led by Eliniya Black and Briana Jenkins, who each had eight points.