Richmond had a different scoring leader in all three of its sectional victories last week.
That wasn’t unusual for the Red Devils.
Senior Mike Tillman is the Devils’ leading scorer, but he’s also usually one of the first to point out the number of offensive weapons at Richmond’s disposal.
There are guards Joel Okafor and Davious Webster. Big men Zach Lett and Devin Thomas. Tillman’s fellow 3-point sharpshooter Kendal Baker. Senior leader Abdul Shabazz, effective both from short and long range.
“It’s huge. You don’t know who else is going to come,” Tillman said. “I just know that we have many players who can step up and take a big role for us.”
Count Isaiah Rader, Nick Thomas and Auntonio Brown among that number, too.
Richmond goes 10 deep when it comes to players, and that depth has come through on numerous occasions for the Red Devils.
They’ve used it on the way to a 22-2 season and a No. 7 state ranking. They’ve used it to win the program’s first outright North Central Conference title in 26 years. And they’ve used it to end an 18-year sectional drought in spectacular fashion, winning every tournament game by 15 or more points to claim the Class 4A Sectional 9 crown at New Castle Fieldhouse.
The Red Devils also plan to use that depth this Saturday when they travel to the Southport regional to take on second-ranked Indianapolis Tech at 10 a.m.
“Now we’ve got to move on and get through this regional,” Baker said.
Baker’s 15 points led the way in Richmond’s 58-43 win over Mt. Vernon (Fortville) in the sectional opener. The senior also swished a pair of critical fourth-quarter 3-pointers in the final as the Red Devils ended Pendleton Heights’ three-year reign as sectional champion.
Richmond piled up points in the fourth quarter, ending the game on a 14-0 run to secure the 63-44 victory — and the 63rd sectional title in school history.
“Every day, you’ve got somebody stepping up,” said Shabazz, whose 21 points helped the Red Devils to a 64-52 win over Warren Central on Feb. 13. “If one person goes down, there’s another one right behind him to pick up the slack so we’re always on that steady level.”
Staying steady has been a focal point.
Consistency has been key for the Red Devils. They haven’t lost a road game yet this season, going as far as Louisville, Ky., and winning long road trips to Huntington North, Logansport and Lafayette Jeff.
They’ve also kept composure in critical games at home, winning against NCC foes Anderson, Muncie Central, Marion and Kokomo at Tiernan Center. Like the Red Devils, Muncie and Kokomo are also sectional champions. Marion featured Mr. Basketball candidate James Blackmon Jr.
“It feels like we’ve all come together as one, and we’re all on the same page,” said Webster, who scored 18 points in the sectional championship and whose defensive tenacity usually draws him against an opposing team’s top scorer.
“It’s real nice to know you can depend on your teammates. We’re just a group that likes to play hard and bring it.”
Richmond’s depth was on display in last Friday’s sectional semifinal win over Greenfield-Central.
The Red Devils scored 70 points against the Cougars — but not one player finished in double figures. RHS coach Joe Luce later talked about how telling that game was, and how “that’s who we are.”
“You can’t really put a circle around one guy,” Luce said.
“The thing that we don’t have, and we’re not going to have Saturday, is we don’t have a best player. We have a very good team. It has been the strength of our group all year long, that it doesn’t matter who it is, or what day it is, it’s going to be somebody who steps up, somebody different who shows up.”
Added Shabazz: “It’s the camaraderie. Everybody has each other’s back. … We praise them. We get on them when we need to. It’s just that team chemistry.”
Tillman leads the Red Devils with 15.3 points per game, followed by 9.5 by Webster and 8.3 from Okafor.
Baker provides 7.5 points per game. Shabazz averages 6 points, Rader 5 and Lett 4.1.
“This team, we care more about each other,” Okafor said. “We don’t care who scores. … It’s really hard to stop that kind of team.”
That depth made the difference in getting the Red Devils over that championship hurdle.
“We’re just one big team. We’re 10 deep,” said Brown, who accomplished the rare feat of winning NCC titles this season with both the Red Devil football and basketball teams. “You can’t really name a lot of teams that have 10 players who all play. I just think that’s great. That’s what’s different about us.”
In Luce’s five seasons leading Richmond, the Red Devils have played in three sectional finals, contended four seasons for the NCC crown and posted 91 wins. They won both conference and sectional championships this year.
“I don’t want them to feel like they’ve accomplished anything yet. I want them to continue to be hungry and want to add to what has already been a great season,” Luce said. “Most importantly, just the realization that there is more ahead, that they are capable of winning two games on Saturday, one at a time.
“These memories are not going to go away. They are going to be something they can always look back on. But let’s not start counting wins and championships and memories yet. Let’s continue to try and add them to the season.”