ROEPER STAR SHINES BRIGHT IN 'RIDERS STATE TOURNEY TRIUMPH
Duriajaiye Lewis was an outright menace on the basketball court Wednesday night. Birmingham Roeper's 6-foot-2 senior point guard was brilliant in his team's district semi-final match-up with Southfield Christian, scoring a game-high 21 points, while snaring a school-record nine steals to go along with six assists and five rebounds in leading the Roughriders to a 44-31 victory in front of their home crowd.
"When he's playing his best, he's very tough to guard," said longtime Roeper head coach Ernie Righetti of his squad's leading scorer. "He took over the game tonight."
Lewis, a transfer from University of Detroit-Jesuit, scored 15 of his 21 points in the second half and ignited a rally that the Roughriders used to put the game away. His nine straight points out of the locker room to open the third quarter - capped by a beautiful twisting reverse lay-up - vaulted Roeper into a lead it never gave up.
"I do whatever it takes to win," said Lewis following his excellent outing. "A game like this just makes me hungry for more. In that second half we showed what kind of team we can be."
Extending its overall record to 7-15, Roeper, which had an unusually down regular season campaign this year, advances into Friday's Class D district championship game against Detroit City riding a three-game win-streak. In close to three full decades on the sidelines coaching the Roughriders, 2011 is only the second time a Righetti-led team has finished the regular season below the .500 mark. He's been head coach at Roeper since 1983, accumulating a combined eight district titles and 11 conference crowns. Last year, Righetti's 'Riders racked up a rotund 23-2 overall record and made an appearance in the program's fifth Sweet Sixteen.
Since becoming eligible in January, Lewis has been averaging 16 points per game. Righetti thinks it took some time for everyone on the team to get on the same page with their new floor general.
"These guys have only been playing together for like 12 games, so it's been a gradual process that's just now starting to bear some fruit," he said. "Hopefully, we find a way to keep playing into next week. We can still improve and get better."
Besides Lewis' impressive exploits, Righetti got a pair of solid performances from his starting frontcourt. Junior center Jack Gorland, the Roughrider's second-leading scorer, and sophomore Garrett House, the team's lanky power forward, put up six points and grabbed six rebounds apiece as well as effecting numerous Eagles shots in the lane with their long arms. Reserve forward Sam Hess came off the bench and injected the Roeper attack with some added energy, scoring five points and corralling four boards.
Southfield Christian was hot out of the gate, but couldn't sustain its level of stellar play throughout the entirety of the contest. Holding a 10-2 lead after the first quarter and a 16-14 lead at the break, the Eagles shot 52 percent from the field in the first half, compared to a frosty 26 percent in the second. Headlining Southfield Christian in the scorebook was junior guard Lindsay Hunter III, who rattled off a team-high 17 points.
A pair of free throws by Hunter III got the Eagles deficit down to 12 points at 35-23 with 6:05 left. But it was Lewis to the rescue once again. First, he drove the lane on the ensuing possession and found House for a lay-up. Then, he followed that up by draining four straight from the charity stripe to officially quell the potential rally and allow for Roeper to empty its bench.
Despite Wednesday's loss, the Eagles made significant strides this year. After ending last season with only two wins total, Southfield Christian closes down 2011 with a final record of 12-9, a vast improvement under second-year head coach Alonso Littlejohn. Next year, the Eagles will gain the services of transfer Chris Dewberry, a high-scoring guard from Waterford Mott who enrolled at Southfield Christian back in late January.