By Jason Longshore – Clayton Daily News
RIVERDALE — In one of the most unexpected matchups in the GHSA state basketball tournament, Riverdale’s season ended in a 55-45 loss to Lithonia Thursday night at Riverdale High School. Both teams advanced in the Class AAAAA bracket after upsets last week, and the Bulldogs upset the Raiders to continue on to the Elite Eight.
“Hats off to them. They executed well, took care of the ball, and made the plays that they had to make,” Riverdale head coach Derrick Powell said.
Powell’s squad battled all night long, but just could not hit enough shots to get into the lead for long.
“It was difficult to put the ball in the basket tonight,” he said. “We had a tough time scoring and making shots, which has been getting us through.”
Riverdale’s James Johnson led all scorers with 14 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Jakwon Lipscomb added 10 points and Cyrus Richards scored eight points. Zion Coin led the Bulldogs with 13 points.
The game was a battle from the beginning, with both teams playing tough half-court defense. The Raiders’ nerves showed in the early going with some sloppy passes and unforced errors, but they started to get it together midway through the first quarter. Coin’s back-to-back three pointers gave Lithonia a 13-11 lead at the end of the quarter.
Riverdale came out strong in the second quarter. Johnson tied the game quickly. Vontrez Leonard drew a charge on Lithonia’s next possession, and Johnson maintained the tie with a strong block underneath the basket. He then stole the ball at mid-court and scored on the ensuing layup to give the Raiders a slim lead. Two free throws from Lithonia gave the Bulldogs a 21-18 lead at halftime.
The Raiders started the second half on a 6-0 run to take a three-point lead. Powell credited his players’ mentality.
“I think the guys come out, work together, and compete every single night,” Powell said. “They never feel like they’re out of a ballgame. I attribute it to their hard work.”
Lithonia just would not go away though, going on a 9-2 run to retake the lead. Leonard’s jumper ended the Bulldogs’ run, and a three-point play from Richards cut the lead to one. Lithonia’s Stinson got loose from Riverdale’s press and scored on a layup at the buzzer to restore the Bulldogs’ three-point lead going into the fourth quarter.
After a flurry gave Lithonia a four-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, Johnson’s free throw cut the lead to one with 3:50 remaining. From there, Lithonia found its shooting touch and reeled off a 10-2 run to pull away.
Riverdale battled throughout the night, but their legs went out late.
“We want to be playing our best at the right time of the season,” Powell said. “We got hot and came together as a team, but unfortunately we just ran out of gas tonight.”
The tournament run will only help the Raiders moving forward and Powell is looking ahead to next season already.
“I’m very excited about the future of the program,” he said. “I think we’ve got some quality young kids moving up through the ranks. We’re going to lose quite a few seniors, but hopefully this gives those kids a goal to work towards in the offseason to try to get better as a team next year.”