ROCKINGHAM — For the third time in three tries this season, the Richmond Raider basketball team took care of business and swept rival Scotland High School on Friday.
The stakes were higher in the final meeting, as the No. 1 Raiders won their second consecutive Sandhills Athletic Conference tournament championship.
Meeting for the second time in the last eight days, Richmond outperformed the No. 2 Fighting Scots in 86-71 fashion.
It was just the second time in program history that the team won the tournament during the same season that it had won the regular-season outright title.
In what proved to be the most competitive of the three games this winter, Scotland’s Lamonte Cousar kept his team in it with a game-high 34 points. He scored half of his points in the fourth quarter alone.
Richmond used four double-digit scorers to win their 16th straight game. Junior Jullien Cole led the way with 24 points and added 6 rebounds.
Both Paul McNeil Jr. and Zion Baldwin finished with double-doubles, matching one another’s 10 boards to lead the team. McNeil Jr. dropped 23 points and Baldwin added 13 points from the post.
Netting all of his 10 points in the second half, including a pair of triples, freshman Jayden Hamilton helped pace the Raiders to the win.
Richmond led by as many as eight points in the first quarter, but an 8-0 run by Scotland (19-8) in the closing minute cut the Raiders’ lead to 16-14 at the start of the second.
McNeil Jr. accounted for Richmond’s first nine points, scoring three free throws and the first two of his five triples in the game.
One of those three-balls broke a 6-6 tie that started a 10-2 run, as Baldwin and Cole added to it with their first two points. McNeil Jr. splashed down another three-pointer to make it a 16-8 advantage before Scotland’s comeback.
The second period proved to be a series of scoring runs from both squads, ending in a 36-26 lead at the break. After two points from Scotland tied the game at 16 points, the Raiders went on a 5-0 run.
Junior Jamarion Wall scored the first of his five points on a mid-range jumper and Baldwin drove the lane for a bucket. He added the and-one opportunity to make it 21-16.
The Fighting Scots scored eight of the next 11 points, save for a triple from Wall in the right corner. With the score tied at 24 points, Richmond responded with a 12-2 run to end the half.
McNeil Jr. started it with a jumper at the top of the key, which was followed by another close-range bucket from Baldwin. Three straight free throws from McNeil Jr., along with a jam from Cole, led to another old-fashioned three-point play by Baldwin.
Richmond led by double digits for much of the third quarter, using six points from Cole. He was 4-for-4 from the line in the period and added a putback.
Hamilton kept the Raiders ahead when he notched his two three-pointers, the first from the left corner and the other from the top of the arc. McNeil Jr. added five points and senior Dakota Chavis laid in the first two his seven second-half points.
Scotland used an 8-0 run for much of the final 2:30 of the third to pull within six points, 52-46, but McNeil Jr. opened the lead back up when he made a contested three-pointer in front of the Richmond bench with 10 seconds left.
A high-scoring fourth quarter by both teams saw the Raiders outscore Scotland 31-25. It was a showdown between Cole and Cousar, who netted their final 14 and 17 points, respectively.
Cole hit three shots from downtown within four trips down the floor for Richmond. The final one came at the top of the floor with 5:14 to play, putting the Raiders up 14 points and forcing a Scotland timeout.
Helping ice the win was Chavis, who scored two buckets and a free throw for five points. Hamilton scored a pair of baskets, Baldwin and McNeil Jr. each had three points in the final eight minutes and sophomore Davion Ingram chipped in two points in the final 30 seconds.
Adding 11 points for Scotland was Jaiquez Caldwell and Isaac Ferguson netted 10 points in the loss.
The next step for Richmond (23-2) is to await the North Carolina High School Athletic Association playoff seeding on Saturday.
As the projected No. 2 seed in the 4A East at the time of publication, the Raiders will have a first-round home game. The Richmond Observer will publish a full playoff preview over the weekend.
Note: Deon Cranford contributed information to this article.