NEW CASTLE, Ind.
Richmond coach Joe Luce looked at his team and smiled.
The end was near.
Not for the Red Devils. But for the end of Richmond’s 18-year sectional drought.
For the 63rd time, and for the first time since 1996, the Red Devils are sectional champions.
They did it in typical Richmond fashion.
Balanced. Unselfish. Poised.
And impressive. The seventh-ranked Red Devils knocked off three-time defending champion Pendleton Heights 63-44 Saturday night to claim Class 4A Sectional 9 — and to add to their historic run this season.
“It’s just an unbelievable feeling,” RHS senior Abdul Shabazz said on the floor of New Castle Fieldhouse as the Red Devils trimmed the nets. “I don’t know how to put it in words.”
Words weren’t needed near the end of the game, either.
Pendleton Heights, reeling in the midst of Richmond’s climatic 14-0 run, called a timeout.
Luce looked at his team and smiled.
“We smiled back,” Shabazz said. “We knew we had it.”
A dominant final four minutes clinched it.
Richmond pushed its lead to double digits in the fourth quarter, but the Arabians pushed back. Pendleton pulled within 49-44 on a Sean McDermott 3-pointer, his fifth of the night, with 4:25 remaining.
Kendal Baker quickly answered with a 3 of his own.
Then, the Richmond senior drilled another.
“It’s just confidence, really,” Baker said. “I was off the first half, first three quarters actually, and after that first one went in, that second one went in and I felt good about myself.”
Mike Tillman led Richmond’s offense with 21 points, followed by 18 from Davious Webster.
Webster was handed the assignment of hounding McDermott on defense, too. The Pendleton junior struck for 10 points in the first quarter as RHS held a 14-13 lead.
McDermott had one point in the second quarter, two in the third. Webster constantly limited the looks of the Arabian sharpshooter, all the while staying aggressive on offense in driving to the basket.
“That’s what I just work for. That’s my game,” Webster said of his defensive pressure. “Just stop their key player and try to do my best. I just competed with him.
“We just pulled it off.”
That’s been a theme for the Red Devils.
They won the program’s first North Central Conference title in more than a decade, then made it the school’s first outright crown since 1988 when they completed an unbeaten NCC schedule.
Saturday’s win was Richmond’s first sectional championship since the advent of class basketball. It was also the Red Devils’ first sectional win in four straight tries against Pendleton. RHS met the Arabians in the 2011 and 2012 finals, and again in last year’s semifinal round.
The Red Devils also snapped a 10-game sectional winning streak for the Arabians.
“I can’t even really put it into words,” Luce said. “You tell them if they do the right thing and they work hard, if they’re committed, that results will happen. There is no guarantee. This ultimately is a real payoff for them, for lots of hard work, togetherness. Overall, they’re just a great team.”
Richmond bested each of its sectional opponents by 15 or more points. The Red Devils opened the tournament Tuesday with a 58-43 victory over Mt. Vernon (Fortville), then slammed Greenfield-Central 70-31 in Friday’s semifinal.
“(Friday) night was just a real telling tale of our team,” Luce said. “I don’t even know the right words to use. When we score 70 points and we don’t have anybody in double figures, that’s who we are.”
That’s who the Red Devils were Saturday.
Tillman and Webster combined for nearly 40 points, but contributions came from up and down the talented Richmond lineup.
Baker netted seven points and Zach Lett finished with six points and a game-high eight rebounds. Joel Okafor weathered early foul trouble to finish with two points, three rebounds and continued his standard tough defensive play. Shabazz scored four, Auntonio Brown three and Devin Thomas two. Isaiah Rader and Nick Thomas again played critical roles coming off the bench.
“We just persevered through that whole game,” Tillman said. “We knew Pendleton was going to be a tough team. We knew they were going to come out and play hard. We just persevered through it.
“We just had to stay calm. We knew they were going to fight back. They always do.”
The Red Devils trailed early in the first quarter after back-to-back McDermott treys, but that was it for his field goals until late in the third.
Tillman closed the opening frame with five consecutive points and RHS used an 11-6 run to head into halftime ahead 28-21.
That lead continued to rise in the third quarter. Richmond sprinted to a double-digit advantage on the strength of a 9-0 roll. Tillman capped that run with a 3-pointer midway through the third, making it 41-28.
“In the third quarter, they started hitting a whole bunch of threes, and I thought we really maintained our composure,” Lett said. “They just got really hot, and we just came back and kept hitting our shots, too. I thought it was a really good game for us.”
Richmond (22-2) will play second-ranked Indianapolis Tech (23-2) at 10 a.m. Saturday to open the Southport regional. Tech defeated Roncalli 56-44 to win the Lawrence North sectional.
Pike (14-8) will meet fifth-ranked Brownsburg (21-1) at noon in the other Southport regional semifinal. The championship is at 8 p.m.
“We’re not done,” Tillman said. “We’re going to keep trying to get all the ‘W’s’ we can.”
Added Luce: “I really just appreciate people continuing to believe in our guys. It’s been a lot of fun being a basketball coach here, and I’m proud to be the Richmond basketball coach. Five years we’ve done a lot of things, but we needed to get over the top with some championships. Finally we were able to win the North Central Conference, and then tonight, it’s just a very defining moment for the hard work everybody has put in for five years here and I’m very proud of them.”
Watch it again
If you missed Richmond’s win in the sectional championship game, you can watch a replay here, thanks to our partners at RadioTroy.com.