ERIE—Technical fouls can send teams into a tailspin, but they can also ignite a team.|
After spotting the Riverdale Rams an eight point lead to start the game, Erie Cardinals coach Ryan Winckler was called for a technical foul after star forward Jacob Johnston was undercut attempting a dunk and an intentional foul wasn't called.
Erie (4-4, 1-1 TRAC-9) promptly woke up and never looked back, downing Three Rivers Conference rival Riverdale 50-37 at Erie High School on Friday night.
"After Riverdale's initial run, our guys did a lot better job of attacking the basketball," said Winckler. "We have four or five starters who are still learning varsity basketball."
Winckler didn't credit the technical for the turnaround, but rather just saw it as his team growing up and learning from a difficult situation.
Erie senior guard Connor Saad (game-high 19 points, four rebounds, three assists) appears to be the top student in that class. After missing almost all of his junior season, Saad was subtly fantastic on Friday night, canning 4 of 9 from long range and going 3 of 4 from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter to pace the Cardinals.
"Last year I was out and couldn't show anything," said Saad, who took turns at point and shooting guard. "I worked hard in the offseason and really wanted to come back and show what I can do."
Riverdale (5-2, 1-2 TRAC-9) took an 8-0 lead with a full court press that caught the Cardinals off guard. But Saad canned a pair of 3-balls and freshman guard Jordan Chandler (six points, three assists) had a pair of baskets to help the Cardinals take a 16-15 advantage at the end of the first quarter.
Without leading scorer and starting point guard Jared Richmond (concussion), Riverdale didn't have an answer for the Cardinals' sudden resurgence.
"These guys have looked to Jared since third grade and this was their first game without him. We miss his leadership and his floor leadership," said Riverdale coach Jason Hendrix, who does see a silver lining in this current state of gray. "We might take some lumps without Jared but these guys will get more minutes, get better, and when we get Jared back we should be that much better."
Erie slowly extended its lead as Johnston picked up six of his 14 points in the second quarter and the Cardinals' defense held the Rams to 10-of-36 shooting from the field. Riverdale hurt itself by going just 7-of-17 from the free throw line.
Said Winckler, "I was ecstatic with the defensive effort. They play hard."
The Cardinals kept the lead into the second half, but Riverdale started to come back late in the third quarter behind senior Mitchell Sand (14 points, 10 rebounds), who grabbed an offensive rebound and put it back in to make it 31-25.
Saad immediately answered though with a drive and a score that seemed to take the steam out of the Rams' rally as Erie pulled away in the final frame.
"That was huge," said Winckler of Saad's basket. "We are a work in progress but we're slowly getting better."