Ribault (Jacksonville), the 5A Florida champion, rolled to a 75-49 defeat of two-time DICK’S winner Riverdale Baptist (Upper Marlboro, Md.) Saturday at Madison Square Garden.
It is the fourth time a Florida girls team has won the event in the eight years it has been held (it was known as the National High School Invitational prior to 2014). Miami Country Day won last year and Dr. Phillips (Orlando) took the title in 2011 and 2013.
Ribault (30-1) was led by junior 6-1 wing Rennia Davis with 23 points and by Nola Carter with 15 and Day’Neshia Banks with 12 points and 10 rebounds. The key to the Trojans’ victory was its smothering defense, both underneath and in disrupting the Crusaders (37-4) in the backcourt.
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“We talked about this the other day,” Ribault coach Shelia Pennick said. “Teams that press don’t like to be pressed. We know we don’t like it. We know how it’s supposed to feel. It’s supposed to make you feel there’s no hope. We just try to be the best pressing team.”Riverdale Baptist was led by McDonald’s All-American guard Kaila Charles with 14 points and 11 rebounds.
Riverdale Baptist (37-4) trailed 29-15 at the half. The Crusaders, usually the more physical team, was dominated underneath and made only three of 24 shots (19 percent) from the floor before halftime and never held the lead after two minutes into the game.
Davis, who was named the tournament MVP, started slowly, but she said she wasn’t concerned.
“I know every time I start out slowly, other players step up,” Davis said. “Once I started finding my shot, it was just so fluid for us.”
Riverdale Baptist was ranked No. 4 going into the event while Ribault was No. 12. The Trojans were even lower in some national rankings.
“Today it went according to plan,” Pennick said. “All we know about (Riverdale) is what we saw on film. We just need to stay true to what we are. We win this game, there might be an ability to get invited to some of the events they have been able to go to. When we (went 8-0 to take charge in the second quarter), that’s exactly what we have been able to do all year. People said we were able to do those things because we weren’t playing anybody.”
The Trojans have the nucleus of their team coming back, with Davis and Banks being juniors. They do lose Carter, a senior guard.
“I was just overjoyed when I got off the court,” Carter said. “I just love my teammates to the bottom of my heart.”