January 22, 2018

Rivas’ toughness, balanced attack keys Thomas Johnson to win against Tuscarora

Thomas Johnson point guard Richard Rivas elevates for a jumper against Tuscarora on Friday, January 5, 2018, at Tuscarora High School. Austin McFadden/MSA.

FREDERICK — After heaving a last-second 3-pointer off the glass that gave Thomas Johnson a 14-point lead through one quarter, Richard Rivas turned to the suddenly quiet Tuscarora student section with a cold-blooded glare. The 5-foot-9 junior guard absorbed the taunts hurled his way and let it fuel his steely brand of ball.

Rivas, who wears No. 0 for Russell Westbrook — the NBA’s reigning Most Valuable Player, known for his sheer intensity — prides himself in everything that comes with the jersey number. He wants to play with a chip on his shoulder, attack the basket willingly and pester opponents with toughness. On Friday night, in their rival’s gym down the road, Rivas did all the above and helped lift Thomas Johnson to a 65-57 win.

Rivas scored nine of his 15 points in the first quarter, where he set the tone early with three trips to the free throw line and crowd-hushing buckets.

“I like how [Westbrook] plays the game. I like his mentality. I like how he attacks the hoop and gets to the free throw line. He’s not scared of nobody. That’s how I take it, like him,” said Rivas, who added five rebounds and an assist in a turnover-free outing. “No matter how tall I am, what my weight is, I’m going to go at you.”

When Tuscarora lurked, down 7-5 midway through the first quarter, Rivas helped turn up the defensive intensity that started a 10-0 run. He also capped the seperating stretch with a triple, which gave his team a 17-5 lead. Minutes into the second, Rivas swelled the Patriots’ lead to 33-14 when he fearlessly drove into the heart of the Titans’ 2-3 zone and canned a pull-up jumper.

“He’s a real tough kid,” Thomas Johnson coach John Manley said of Rivas.

Though Tuscarora began to chip away, Rivas keyed a defensive performance in which Thomas Johnson (9-2) held the hosts to 38 percent (19-for-50) from the floor. The Patriots mixed up a stingy man-to-man defense with a lengthy 1-3-1 zone, and kept the Titans offense quiet when they needed to.

The Patriots led 41-26 at the break and 54-42 after three, but Tuscarora (7-4) managed an 8-0 run that got them to 54-49 with six minutes to go.

“There were probably three possessions where we took some bad shots, got a little selfish there and then I said, when we got a timeout, ‘Listen, we have to back to the game plan,’ ” Hanley said. “I told them, six more possessions and we got this. They did a pretty good job of closing it out.”

For most of the first half and down the stretch Friday, Thomas Johnson resumed its unselfish play that’s upstarted a five-game winning streak. Five players scored in double-figures: Rivas, 6-4 forward Braxton Foreman (14 points, six rebounds, four assists), 6-5 forward J.R. Powe (12 points, 12 rebounds, three assists and three blocks), 6-3 guard Zay Brooks (12 points, eight rebounds and four assists) and 6-6 center Bennett Commander (10 points, eight rebounds).

“We’ve found joy in playing with each other,” Rivas said. “We’ve found joy in everybody scoring. That’s the most important part, if we’re all happy, then we’ll win games.”

Thomas Johnson also pulled down 16 offensive rebounds and had 18 second-chance points.

The Patriots’ only blemishes are a 75-60 loss to No. 25 Oakdale to open the season and a humbling 56-45 loss to under-.500 Watkins Mill. Since then, they have five wins by an average of 24.8 points, with the mindsight to reach the program’s first state tournament since 2002.

“That is our ultimate goal,” Hanley said. “But we try not to get too high. We try to keep them humble. And this is a good group that does that.”

About Kyle McFadden 388 Articles
Kyle McFadden is a graduate from Linganore High School's Class of 2014, a sports junkie and general news-hound. He got his start as a sports writer in January 2014 for Linganore's student-run newspaper The Lance, where he wrote 13 articles. McFadden then launched his own blog in October 2014 called The Beltway Dispatch covering collegiate, local high school and professional sports. Formally known as The Beltway Dispatch, McFadden and Evan Engelhard merged respective platforms in June 2015 to make what is now Maryland Sports Access. With baseball, basketball and golf experience, McFadden brings ample knowledge to the helm of MSA. McFadden covers a wide variety of sports in football, baseball, basketball, golf, hockey, lacrosse, soccer and specializes in the collegiate and high school levels. McFadden volunteers his time at Damascus Road Community Church -- serving as a mentor to the youth, basketball coach at the varsity and junior varsity levels, and leads a small group of high school sophomores every Wednesday night. Although he's only been around journalism since January 2014, he's a high school sports reporter for The Baltimore Sun and freelancer for The Frederick News-Post. McFadden's work has also appeared in DMV newspapers The Aegis, The Capital Gazette, The Daily Times (Delmarva Now), The Hometown Observer, Howard County Times, Germantown Pulse and The Towson Times. He's also won two Mike Powell Excellence in Journalism awards and has appeared on The Best of SNO, which showcases top student work of high school and college journalists. McFadden currently studies at Frederick Community College and plans to transfer to the University of Maryland in the fall of 2018 to work on a bachelor's degree in journalism with aspirations to be a national college basketball writer.
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