ESSEX - The Richland Rebels boys basketball team notched a big victory at home on Friday night, as they defeated the East Prairie Eagles 65-57.
The Rebels played a solid game at both ends of the floor and used some hot shooting from the foul line, to take down the Eagles. As a team, Richland shot 96 percent from the charity stripe, making 22 of 23 attempts. Sophomore Matt Ritch led the way for the Rebels draining all of his 13 attempts from the line.
Both teams started a little shaky in the first quarter. The Eagles committed nine turnovers in the quarter, while the Rebels were forced into eight.
Richland went on an 7-0 run, to go up 11-4 with 2:07 left in the first quarter. The Eagles added a bucket and the Rebels led 11-6 after one quarter of action.
East Prairie's rough first half start continued in the second quarter, as down-
low threat Tony Jones, picked up his second foul at the 7:29 mark of the quarter. Jones did not play the rest of the half for the Eagles.
The Rebels took advantage of the absence of Jones and went on an 8-2 run to end the second quarter. Richland led 29-20 heading into halftime.
For East Prairie head coach Jason Irby, the first half of action was one to forget.
"We did not play with any effort in the first half," said Irby. "We have some good guys on the team but tonight they did not get the job done. I feel the key to the game was Jones getting into early foul trouble. He has got to stay away from silly fouls. But with Jones out, we did not have anybody step up. We are just not very good right now."
Senior guard Dez Johnson was held in check in the first half, as he only notched four points. Randy Woods led the Eagles in scoring at the half with six points.
Sophomore forward Tommy Harlan had a nice first half scoring nine points and dishing out three assists. Senior Jackie Smith contributed six points off the bench for the Rebels in the half. Junior Cameron Whittaker was a stat-
stuffer in the first half scoring six points, grabbed five rebounds and had three assists.
"Our defense in the first half won the game for us," said Richland head coach Jeff Jennewein. "The kids wanted it bad and played extremely hard tonight. The team played with all heart tonight."
East Prairie came out in the second half with renewed intensity and stepped up their defense with a full-court press. Richland went to panic mode through the first part of the third quarter, as the Rebels turned the basketball over on seven of their first nine possessions in the quarter.
Taking advantage of Richland's poor ball-handling, the Eagles took their first lead of the game, 33-31, midway through the third quarter. Jones kept himself out of foul trouble and scored 11 points in the quarter.
The Rebels managed to compose themselves late in the third quarter and took a two-point lead, 40-38, heading into the final quarter.
Richland and East Prairie went back and forth in the fourth quarter, as both teams fought hard for the victory. With the Rebels up 54-53 with two minutes remaining in the contest, Ritch hit a huge 3-pointer and two free-throws to ice the game for Richland. The Rebels gained the 65-57 victory over the Eagles.
Jennewein had a lot of praise for his underclassmen who led the way for Richland.
"Matt is in the gym all the time," said Jennewein. "Matt works on his shot year round and he always comes prepared in practices and in games."
As for Harlan, Jennewein has been pleased with the improved conditioning of his forward.
"Tommy has been enjoyable to watch this year," said Jennewein. "Tommy was a little bit overweight last year and it affected his game. He didn't play as hard last year as he does this year. He is another kid who has spent a lot of time in the gym."
Jennewein also had high praise for Whittaker who hounded East Prairie's Johnson all night on defense.
"Cameron does everything we ask of him," said Jennewein. "The kid had a heck of game tonight. He did it all."
Harlan led the Rebels in scoring with 19 points and had six rebounds. Ritch scored 18 points and dished out three assists. Whittaker scored 10 points, led Richland with seven rebounds and five assists. Smith ended up with 12 points and five rebounds.
Jones led East Prairie with 17 points and eight rebounds. Johnson picked up his play in the second half and ended up with 13 points and led the Eagles with four assists. Woods hit two 3-pointers on his way to 10 points. Senior Mitchell Winchester had an all-around game scoring eight points, had five rebounds and three assists.
East Prairie had 26 rebounds in the game, of which, 16 were on the offensive end. Richland ended up with 23 rebounds, 11 were offensive rebounds.
After the sloppy first half, the Eagles only committed four turnovers in the second half and ended up with 18 turnovers for the game. Richland had 10 turnovers in the second half and finished with 22 turnovers in the contest.
"Have to give credit to Richland," said Irby, "they played well and got after us early. We have to start to play better or it is going to be a long season."
Both teams will participate in the Bloomfield Christmas Tournament, with games set to start on Dec. 26. East Prairie (2-5) received the No. 12 seed and will face No. 5 Van Buren in the first round.
Richland (3-4) garnered the No. 15 seed and will face No. 2 South Pemiscot in the first round.