For a McCallie basketball team with 10 seniors on the roster, it would be easy for sophomore Eric Rivers to defer to his teammates at home against the reigning state champs. But on Tuesday night, that mature senior leadership realized that the best path to victory was to feed the hot hand of the young phenom.
Rivers scored 14 of his game-high 29 points in the third quarter, and the Blue Tornado's stifling defense held the reigning Division II-AA champs to five second-half field goals in a dominant 59-45 victory over Brentwood Academy.
"My teammates did a great job of setting screens and getting me open. They trust me to put the ball in my hands and go make plays," Rivers said. "A win like this gives us a lot of confidence. I think it's a benchmark for us, but we're still not completely finished yet."
Rivers did a little bit of everything offensively for the Blue Tornado (12-4). When the Eagles defenders would play off him, he lit it up from behind the arc, going 3-of-7. When he was guarded tightly, his quick first step allowed him to drive to the basket, where he finished with high efficiency.
"Eric worked extremely hard this summer on his game," said McCallie first-year coach David Conrady. "He probably improved more than a lot of guys I've ever been around anywhere I've coached. I felt like his teammates put him in position to have success tonight, setting screens and getting him the ball in spots where he could be successful."
It was Brentwood Academy that got out of the gate well, jumping out to an 8-3 lead. The Blue Tornado countered with three 3-pointers, one by Anthony Watkins and back-to-back treys from John Hardy, for a 13-11 lead after a quarter.
With the lead still two after a back-and-forth second quarter, Kam Watson swished a buzzer-beater from midcourt to give the Blue Tornado a 32-27 halftime lead and a surge of momentum going into the locker room. McCallie turned the ball over only twice in the first half.
"The way we took care of the basketball and how we controlled the offensive rebounds kept us in the game in the first half," Conrady said. "The thing that I thought was the greatest in my mind was that we trusted each other. That's been a long process, but we really trusted each other tonight."
In the second half, it was virtually all Rivers. After going scoreless in the first quarter, he outscored the Eagles by himself 20-18 in the second half as McCallie stretched the lead to 20 midway through the fourth quarter. Despite poor free-throw shooting in the final minutes, the Blue Tornado held on for the victory.
BJ Davis led Brentwood Academy with 16 points, while Randy Brady scored 15 and Marcus Fitzgerald chipped in 12.
Contact Kevin Llewallyn at email@example.com.