Richmond has a share.
But, the Red Devils don’t want to share.
No surprise there — and no surprises Friday night either, as Richmond joined the ranks of some pretty exclusive company.
The Red Devils’ second-half surge carried them to North Central Conference title No. 8 — and past Anderson 57-35 at Tiernan Center.
It was a reserved Richmond team following the victory. The Red Devils were happy to earn the program’s first conference title in more than a decade, but they were also focused on the future — North Central tonight, Kokomo on Feb. 21 with a chance to win the NCC outright.
“It’s huge considering only eight teams have done this, including us,” said RHS senior Mike Tillman, whose 17 points led all scorers. “It’s an honor to share with some of the great teams that have played here and won NCC championships.
“We finally got a piece of it. We’re not done yet.”
Richmond rose to 5-0 in the NCC, clinching no worse than a share of its first conference championship since 2002.
Only Kokomo remains for the Red Devils. Marion is the only other team left that could tie for the title. The Giants, 3-1 in the NCC, have conference games remaining Feb. 13 at home with Huntington North and Feb. 21 at Muncie Central.
“It’s big, but it’s only the start,” said RHS senior Abdul Shabazz. ” … We want that thing outright.”
The Red Devils fended off a pesky Anderson squad that hung around until midway through the third quarter.
RHS led 25-19 at halftime, and that lead still stood at six when Anderson’s ZacAree Owens converted a free throw with 3:17 left in the third.
Soon came a well-timed timeout for RHS.
Make way for the Red Devils.
Tillman swished his fourth 3-pointer of the game at 2:36, then followed with No. 5 about 20 seconds later.
That sparked a 9-0 run by the Red Devils. Their lead never dipped below nine after that, and reached into the 20s courtesy of a dominating 15-4 fourth quarter.
“We set ourselves up for a great opportunity,” said RHS coach Joe Luce. “I trust our team, and I feel like our players trust our coaches. We just needed I think (in the third quarter) to have a small reminder that we need to win the hustle plays. We need to rebound each and every possession, and I didn’t feel like that was happening.
“By no means did I feel like our guys were not trying or playing hard, but I just didn’t think there was that extra effort that needed to take place. At that timeout we did talk about that, and I felt like they responded well.”
Joel Okafor scored 11 points for Richmond, with Shabazz netting eight and Zach Lett adding seven points and six rebounds.
Tillman grabbed a team-high seven rebounds, while Davious Webster scored six. Isaiah Rader, Auntonio Brown and Kendal Baker also scored for RHS.
“That just helps wear them down. We have 10 guys coming out,” Okafor said of the Red Devils’ depth. “That just helps make those guys (the other team) get tired.”
Earlier in the week, Rader was not expected to play after an injury in last weekend’s victories over Marion and Lafayette Jeff. Luce said the junior was cleared Friday morning to play.
He responded with four points and two rebounds, as well as the aggressive defense he’s been known for this season.
“He’s feeling much better,” Luce said. “He just showed what kind of an athlete and special player he is.
” … We have great team chemistry. Lots of faith in each other on both ends, coaches and players. Ultimately that is what is going to take you a long way and win championships if you have that kind of chemistry.”
Kobe Clay was the only Indian in double figures with 10 points.
It was the sixth straight win for the Red Devils (14-1), now ranked sixth in the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association poll, and ninth in Class 4A by the Associated Press.
“Don’t sleep,” Shabazz said of the mindset going into Friday’s game. “The second half, we turned it up and got the job done.”
Richmond returns to action tonight at Tiernan, facing North Central at 7:30 p.m.
The Panthers own two victories over Richmond the past two seasons, including last year’s 79-54 victory in Indianapolis. They improved to 9-6 with Friday’s 60-48 win over Lawrence Central. Sophomore Eron Gordon is averaging around 17 points a game for North Central.
“I’m looking forward to playing them,” Okafor said. “We had a tough loss last year at their place. We lost to them my freshman year. It’s going to be a good game. They’re going to play hard. Eron Gordon is one of the top sophomores right now. It’s going to be good competition for us.”
Added Luce: “It’s a very good North Central team that gives us an opportunity to see how we stack up against a great team from Indianapolis.”
Sports editor Josh Chapin: (765) 973-4463, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/JoshChapinPI