The Highland High School boys basketball team had a tall order, literally and figuratively, in taking on Riverview Gardens (St. Louis) Wednesday. But the Bulldogs battled hard against a formidable foe and even grabbed the lead early in the fourth quarter.
But the Riverview Gardens Rams (St. Louis) answered back quickly and loudly, putting all of its size, athleticism and experience on display to close out the game with a 23-11 scoring spree and post a 57-46 victory over the Bulldogs and advance into Saturday’s championship game of the Triad Mid-Winter Classic.
On Tuesday night, Riverview blasted Granite City 71-46 and most likely will face tourney-host Triad in the title game as the Knights only had to play Gateway STEM (1-7) tonight after beating Marion (2-9) 64-54 on Tuesday.
The loss was the third in a row for Highland (9-9) with all three coming against quality competition: Vianney (St. Louis), Teutopolis and now Riverview. The Bulldogs play Granite City Friday at 6 p.m.
Highland found itself in danger of being run off the court on a couple of occasions in the first half.
Out of the gate, Riverview raced out to a 7-2 advantage and was sparked by 6-foot-9 senior Jason Drags’ two-handed dunk which came on a feed off the backboard from senior Jhanyle Hamilton.
But the Bulldogs stayed within reach until 6-7 senior Zeke Moore drilled back-to-back 3-pointers to put the Rams on top 25-14 midway through the second quarter.
But the Bulldogs showed plenty of fight, closing the half on a 9-2 run, with Austin Elledge, HHS’ senior leading scorer, starting the spurt with a trifecta and closing it with a pullup baseline jumper with four seconds to go to chop the deficit down to 27-23 at the break.
Elledge, who topped all scorers with 19 points, scored Highland’s first six points of the third quarter to pull the Bulldogs even at 29-29 halfway through the period.
Then senior Luke Thies slashed down the lane for a finger roll to put the Bulldogs out front, 35-34, for the game’s only lead change one minute and two seconds into final frame.
But Riverview reeled off a quick 12-2 spurt over the next 2:02 to turn the one-point deficit into a nine-point advantage and take firm command of the game with 4:56 to play.
Riverview’s 6-foot-3 senior Malik Barnett ignited the spurt with five quick points on a 3-pointer and a layup. Drags then took a feed from 6-7 senior Zeke Moore and threw down a one-handed dunk in transition before Moore buried his fourth and final 3-point shot and Drags converted a layup off an assist from 6-7 senior K’Quan Carter and the Rams led 46-37 with 4:42 remaining.
The Bulldogs did not roll over as senior Brode Portell connected on a long-range bomb to pull Highland within 48-42 with 2:32 left.
But Riverview were just too tall and talented, scoring eight points in 50 seconds to slam the door on HHS’ comeback hopes.
Portell joined Elledge in double figures with 11 points.
Moore paced Riverview with 17 points. Also for the Rams, Drags tossed in 12 points and Barnett, Carter and sophomore Kyle Young added eight points apiece.
Also scoring for the Bulldogs were senior Justin Twyford (six points), Thies (four), senior Will Michael (four) and sophomore Stephen Schniers (two).