The Riverside Pirates completed a season sweep over their closest rivals Thursday, with Riverside defeating the Northern Knights, 76-71, to advance to the third round of the 4A playoffs.
Like the previous two contests, this one went down to the wire.
Previously, Riverside won 60-57 at Northern on Dec. 8 and 61-56 at home against the Knights on Feb. 10.
They never met in the PAC-6 tournament, despite tying for the regular-season championship, because the Pirates were upset in the semifinals by Cardinal Gibbons, which fell to Northern in the championship game.
Thursday’s second-round game in the N.C. High School Athletics Association 4A tournament offered No. 10-seeded Northern (21-7) a third chance at proving itself against No. 7 seeded Riverside (19-8).
“I’m so proud of my guys,” said Riverside coach Brian Strickland. “This was going to be tough. Playing a team three times, in the second round of the playoffs, you’ve beat them twice; they’re your rivals. That’s a lot.
“I’m just proud of my guys. They rose to the occasion.”
Northern jumped out to a 6-0 start before Isaiah Reddish knocked in the Pirates’ first basket. Riverside ended the first quarter on their own run, 11-0, to take a 17-13 lead. The Pirates never trailed again.
“We started out slow, and I told our guys this was going to be up and down, and that we had to weather the storm,” said Strickland.
Riverside stretched their lead to double digits in the third quarter with baskets from Anthony Peak and Reddish. Then Northern responded when Timothy Bell and Jalen Johnson scored the next five points to cut the Riverside lead to 40-34 with 5:30 left in the third.
Northern kept it close with their pressure defense and long range shooting in the fourth. Four straight free throws form Riverside point guard Justin Johnson gave his team a 10 point lead with about five minutes remaining in the game.
Ricky Council got hot from deep for the Knights, scoring nine points in the fourth quarter before Strickland got on his team about the defense that was leaving Council open for several good looks.
“We get up six or seven points and they come back and hit a 3,” Strickland said. “We have to continue that same defensive intensity in that last minute instead of staring at that clock, waiting for it to hit zero.”
But Justin Johnson showed why he’s the leader for the Pirates. With his team-high 16 points, Johnson stayed aggressive all the way till the end.
“I played really aggressive tonight. I was trying to get my teammates involved, and just enjoying the night,” Johnson said. “I shot the ball well; I was attacking the basket, trying to get fouled,” Johnson said.
With 1:29 showing on the clock, and his team up by three, Justin Johnson knocked down two free throws to give Riverside a 70-65 lead. Two possessions later, Council hit a 3 from the corner to again cut the lead down to one possession. Johnson went to the line again and hit two free throws to ice it in the final seconds.
“Justin is our rock,” Strickland said. “He’s been our point guard for three years, and when times get tough, that’s who we look to. I thought he handled the pressure pretty well tonight“That’s what seniors do. He took care of business.”
Riverside will head on the road for Saturday’s third-round game at 4A East No. 2 seed Garner Magnet (27-2 overall and 14-1 at home this year).
Southern, Voyager advance
Big-8 regular-season champion Southern Durham advanced to Saturday’s third round by defeating No. 12 seeded Southern Lee 76-63 Thursday. Southern, 13-1 at home this year, started strong against the Cavaliers, taking an early 18-11 lead and then stayed in front the rest of the way. Southern Lee finished 20-8 after making an apperance in the NCHSAA tournament for an 11th straight year.
Southern (21-3), seeded No. 5 in the 3A East, advances to meet No. 4 seed Asheboro (22-4) Saturday.
In the 1A East, No. 5 seeded Voyager Academy turned in one of its strongest offensive performances yet, defeating No. 12 Riversde-Martin by a 97-81 score in Thursday’s second round. Chance Greene scored a game-high 30 points while Jay Huff provided 28 points and 19 rebounds for Voyager (28-4).
The Vikings, who were 14-0 at home this year, have to travel to Weldon High School to meet the No. 4 Chargers (23-3) in Saturday’s third round.