GAINESVILLE — Moments after Riverside Military Academy’s 46-36 win over Pepperell on Saturday in Gainesville, Eagles coach Matt Bohon called out to junior Richard Tribble.
"Good job," the coach told his starting point guard.
Tribble smiled and rolled his eyes.
"Well, it was a good-enough job," Bohon replied.
That post-game exchange said it all.
Though the Eagles weren’t sharp, they were good enough to turn back the Dragons and win the first GHSA basketball playoff game in school history. They advance to the Class AA second round, where they’ll play host to the Blessed Trinity/Jordan winner Wednesday in Gainesville.
"You always hear coaches in the NCAA tournament talk about survive and advance," Bohon said. "I think we survived. We didn’t play real well. We were a little rusty and I don’t think we handled their pressure really well, but I thought we battled."
Not much was going right early for Riverside.
Pepperell’s quickness and aggressive 2-3 zone was making life tough for the Eagles, forcing five turnovers in the game’s first 2:30 and limiting Riverside’s shots.
The Dragons jumped out to a quick 9-2 lead before Riverside responded with nine straight points and stretched a 17-2 run across the final minutes of the first quarter, into the early stages of the second.
"The main thing we were doing early is that we were so nervous we couldn’t even catch the ball," Bohon said. "I say nervous, but really we were just excited, anxious. That was probably the biggest home crowd we’ve played in front of this season and it was our first playoff game in GHSA ever.
"We called one timeout, and the only thing we said was, ‘Hey. Breathe. Relax.’"
Junior Brandon McKinney was a steadying force for the Eagles during the run. The 6-foot-6 forward scored 12 of his 13 points in the first half and finished the game with nine rebounds and three blocks.
Riverside led by a pair at the end of one quarter, and never trailed again. The Eagles led by 10 at halftime and wouldn’t allow Pepperell to get closer than five the rest of the way, but the Dragons kept it close until the game’s waning moments.
Kendrick Cheeks spurred Pepperell in the second half, when his point total started catching up with his hustle stats. Cheeks went on a tear in the third quarter, hitting four straight field goals. He finished with a game-high 18 points (14 in the second half) to go with six rebounds and four steals.
But the Eagles answered every Pepperell threat. After the Dragons shaved the lead to 36-31 early in the fourth quarter, Riverside senior Steven Frady knifed through the lane and fought through a foul for a bucket. He then completed the three-point play with a free throw, giving the Eagles some breathing room.
The Dragons clawed back to within five once more, but Tribble’s six fourth-quarter points and Dylan Setzekorn’s three fourth-quarter steals, helped seal Riverside’s win.
Tribble led the Eagles with 14 points.
Neither team enjoyed an efficient night on the offensive end. Both teams turned the ball over 21 times and combined to make just two (both by Tribble) of 23 attempted 3-pointers.
"We've just got to take care of the ball," Bohon said. "If we don’t turn it over, we’ve got a good chance of scoring. At this time of year you can’t change a whole lot. You’ve just got to refine, practice and sweat a little bit.
"We’re excited about getting to play another game at home. Tonight, I thought we did a good job of just focusing on this game, but we’re very excited about playing here again in front of the whole corps on Wednesday night."