The challenges keep coming for the Red Devils.
So do the opportunities.
Win on Friday against Anderson, and Richmond can clinch a share of its first North Central Conference title in more than a decade.
One night later, North Central visits Tiernan Center for a rescheduled non-conference game.
Richmond, ranked ninth in the Associated Press Class 4A poll and eighth by the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association, is 13-1 overall and 4-0 in the NCC.
Anderson is 6-8, 1-3. Tip-off is 8 p.m. at Tiernan Center.
“We’ve set ourselves up for an opportunity to control our own destiny, and we look forward to playing an Anderson team that maybe in the win-loss column hasn’t shown it, but is a very dangerous team that has nothing to lose and I think will play extremely hard,” said RHS coach Joe Luce. “(They are) talented enough to give us problems.”
Richmond swept last weekend’s back-to-back slate, stopping Marion and Mr. Basketball candidate James Blackmon Jr. 57-53 on Friday, then turning around Saturday for a dominating 67-37 road victory at Lafayette Jeff.
Richmond’s last NCC title came in 2001-02 when the Red Devils shared it with Anderson. RHS owns seven conference championships, and the Red Devils have one more NCC game remaining after Anderson. They’ll play host Feb. 21 to Kokomo.
“We need to look at that (Anderson on Friday) as a must-win game,” Luce said. “It’s a game we don’t want to have slip through our fingers and not capitalize on and have to set ourselves up for Kokomo to be another title game. We want, selfishly, to be in a position where we play the last conference game at home to clinch the title to ourselves.
“Anderson is on our minds. It’s a game that I think is very important to our program.”
Anderson is coming off a 68-48 loss last Friday at Kokomo. The Indians have dropped three straight — all conference games — having also lost to Huntington North and Marion.
RHS took control of the NCC by knocking off Marion, also unbeaten in the conference at the time, in front of nearly 6,000 fans at Tiernan.
“We need to focus, get through (Anderson) and make sure we don’t overlook them or rest on what happened last weekend and just play another 32 minutes of great basketball,” Luce said.
Mike Tillman leads Richmond with 16.4 points per game, while Joel Okafor and Davious Webster average 9.6 and 9.4, respectively.
The Red Devils were balanced on offense in both wins last weekend, with senior Kendal Baker swishing a total of seven 3-pointers over two games.
“We can use everybody. We can wear out the other team with the depth that we have,” Baker said. “Everybody on our team is solid. We just keep attacking.”
Luce does not expect junior Isaiah Rader to be available this weekend after he was injured last week.
Rader was a valuable contributor in both wins, sparking the RHS defense against Marion and scoring 11 at Lafayette Jeff.
North Central is 8-6 overall and has won three straight and five of its past six. The Panthers also play host Friday to Lawrence Central.
Sophomore Eron Gordon, younger brother of NBA star Eric Gordon, averages 16.9 points per game for North Central. Teammate and freshman Kris Wilkes also scores in double figures with 10.2 per game.
The Panthers’ last game was a 74-70 win over Class 2A’s top-ranked team, Park Tudor.
“That’s the kind of game we want on our schedule,” Luce said. “It’s a very good North Central team that is young, much improved from what they were earlier in the year, and a marquee player in Eron Gordon who will be exciting for everybody to watch, and great for us to defend and test ourselves.”
Luce praised the turnout at Tiernan last weekend.
“We had a lot of strength and a lot of help in the fourth quarter because of a great crowd,” he said. “We need everybody to come back out, and be here to help us get through these next few games, especially Friday night. I think that crowd does make a difference, and we’re anticipating another very good crowd to support what will hopefully be an opportunity to get a piece of a conference championship that has not happened in a while, and set us up for an opportunity to win it outright against Kokomo.”