The last thing Richland Northeast wanted to do as the host of the eighth annual Chick-fil-A Classic was to fall into the Classic I loser's bracket on opening night.
Behind four players in double figures, the Cavaliers dispatched cross-town rival Lower Richland 63-53 on Friday night to advance into Monday's winner's bracket contest.
"We've won the opening game for five or six years in a row, so these kids do take pride in that," Richland Northeast coach Jason Powell said. "Plus playing against Lower Richland this year added a little something to it."
It was a 10-0 RNE run with just over 10 minutes remaining that turned the tide. The Diamonds held a one-point halftime lead, and the game was tied at 34 when Donald Tention began the run with a 3-pointer. Ryan Quarles followed with a 3-point play, and Tention added a breakaway dunk to make it 42-34 in less than a minute of play.
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Travis Hammond ended the run with a jumper from the lane, and Lower Richland (4-4) got no closer than three points the rest of the way.
The Cavaliers forced three of Lower Richland's 21 turnovers during the run and used their full-court trapping defense to fuel the offensive outburst.
"We tried to keep them off balance with the press, and sometimes we would fall back," Powell said. "We wanted them to keep guessing, and we played within our system. And it worked tonight."
Tention, a 5-10 senior guard, paced the four Richland Northeast (6-1) players in double figures with 16 points. Quarles added 15. Hammond chipped in 14, and Jared Guest scored 10 points as the five starters were the only players to score.
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"Tention is capable of doing that, but he has been a little up and down so far this year," Powell said. "When he plays within himself and under control, he can contribute like that every night. It's unusual for us to only have five players score, because we rotate ten or 11 every game."
Both teams went on large runs in the first half. First it was the Cavaliers using a 10-2 spurt to jump to a 17-7 advantage. But behind the shooting of Eric Eaves, the Diamonds answered with a 15-4 spurt to take the lead into halftime.
Other than tournament implications, the game featured the return of Malcolm Rhett to face his former team. Rhett, who transferred to Lower Richland in the offseason, had mixed results. The 6-8 senior forward finished with 10 points and 14 rebounds but wasn't a factor during the decisive run.
Keith Johnson led the Diamonds with 15 points. Eaves finished with 12.
LR: Keith Johnson 15, Eric Eaves 12, Malcolm Rhett 10, Taylor 2, Outing 6, McFadden 8. RNE: Donald Tention 16, Ryan Quarles 15, Travis Hammond 14, Jarred Guest 10, Quinn Martin 8.