y Brian Paglia
The most conspicuous oddity at the opening tip was those who were not on the court. Instead of leaping high to start the game, Riverdale's Terrell Barnes sat on the bench in crutches, ailing from a broken foot that will sideline him for 4 to 6 weeks. Rather than lending their skills and basketball intellect, Morrow's De'Andre Smith and Sean Stringfellow were idle on the bench with their fragile ankles.
So it became a contest between teams learning to cope, trying to redefine themselves before the bulk of the season swallows them in confusion. Both proved they are still searching for that identity, but Riverdale found enough of one in Judson Dilliard to pull out a 64-55 victory at home against Morrow in a Region 4-AAAAA game Tuesday night.
"We've been working through a lot of team chemistry type of things," Riverdale coach Derick Powell said. "Every team has its own identity. First quarter of the season you just try to push all the right buttons and find the right combination. Just find something to motivate these guys."
Barnes has been Riverdale's leading-rebounder for the past three seasons, and the Raiders' lofty goals of returning to the GHSA playoffs Final Four hinged on whether he could take the mantle his older brother Chris, now at the University of Georgia, had once held as a dominant force in the post.
But in the three games since Barnes went down against Savannah, Dilliard has been thrust into Barnes' role. He led the Raiders (2-3, 2-1) with 20 points, including six of Riverdale's final seven points to fend off Morrow (6-4, 1-4).
Maybe none were bigger than the two with just a minute left in the game. Morrow came back from a 57-49 deficit with a flurry of transition and putback points to get within two. Powell promptly called a timeout and called for Dilliard to get the ball in the post, and Dilliard hit a deft hook shot to give Riverdale enough room to breathe.
"I feel like it took the momentum away from Morrow," Dilliard said. "They were on a comeback streak. It was kind of like a stop."
Dante Turnispeed was the only other Riverdale player in double-figures with 12 points.
Dilliard's shot underscored Morrow's troubles in the front-court, specifically its inability to rebound against bigger teams, and it doomed the Mustangs to its fourth-straight loss after opening the season on a six-game winning streak.
The Mustangs took a five-point lead going into halftime after Tony Dukes hit a 3 at the buzzer. But it couldn't match Riverdale's intensity coming out of the half. The Raiders started the third quarter on an 8-0 run before Morrow coach Jay Livingston called a timeout to calm his team. Riverdale would eventually extend its lead to 10 at 51-41 going into the fourth quarter.
"We dug ourselves deep the way we came out in that third quarter," Livingston said. "They were opportunistic based upon the third quarter. If we would've just maintained what we had done in the second quarter, we wouldn't have been struggling."
Smith added 10 points for Morrow.
Riverdale 53, Morrow 43 (Girls)
The Lady Raiders had to deal with the suspension of two starters and the influx of inexperience from the jayvee players brought up to fill those roster spots. Then Riverdale looked every bit erratic and dysfunctional as might be expected of a stitched-together unit, missing horribly on its first shots while Morrow looked poised.
But the Lady Raiders found their touch and got key contributions from some of their new players, and Riverdale fended off Morrow down the stretch for a 53-43 victory against the visiting Lady Mustangs in a Region 4-AAAA game Tuesday.
In the place of leading scorer Tiayra Green, Tristey Miller had a game-high 22 points for the Lady Raiders (4-1, 3-0), including four 3-pointers. Her first three shots from behind the arc in the face of Morrow's 2-3 zone brought Riverdale out of its early struggles and back from an 7-0 deficit.
"She's my lone senior out there, and she had to take up the scoring slack because I was missing our leading scorer for the night," Riverdale coach Tony Brinson said. "She did a marvelous job. She had a good week of practice and stepped up to the plate."
Janel Osbourne and Shaneese Heard each had 10 points for Riverdale. Both were instrumental in Riverdale's advantage at the free-throw line. The Lady Raiders out-scored Morrow 26-8 in free throws and made several down the stretch to help seal the game.
"I told them at the beginning of the game that was going to be the key," Brinson said. "Free-throw shooting and rebounding."
Chatil Bradford led Morrow (4-4, 3-2) with 20 points. Latoya Bleach added 11, as the Lady Mustangs' two-game winning streak was snapped.