FAYETTEVILLE — A late-game defensive stand, with the help of big performances from a seasoned veteran and a promising young player, propelled the Richmond Raider basketball team to the final playoff round of the 9 Dime Fall League.
In exciting fashion, No. 1 Richmond held off No. 5 New Life Christian Academy 66-62 in overtime, making it the second win over “The Life” this season. The Raiders and head coach Maurice McLaurin will play for the League’s inaugural championship on Saturday.
With the game knotted at 60 points with just 1:50 left in the overtime period, senior forward Nygie Stroman hit a baseline jumper to give the Raiders a two-point lead. Freshman Paul McNeil added a free throw with 28 seconds left, giving the Raiders a 63-60 lead.
Following a drive by The Life, freshman Jamarion Wall tacked on two shots from the charity stripe with 15.7 seconds left for insurance. McNeil collected a loose ball in the closing moments, and senior Dylan Lewis drained a free throw with 1.2 ticks to seal the deal.
“It was a really good game, and was certainly a good test for us,” McLaurin said. “(New Life) had a chance to tie it late, but we made a good defensive stand.
“I thought all of the guys played well to get the win,” he added. “Their communication was good and they played until the end to get the job done.”
McNeil got a lot of praise following the game, as he finished with his first double-double of the fall. He scored a game-high 21 points and added a game-high 11 rebounds. Not far behind was Stroman, who chipped in 14 points and nine boards.
Helping New Life keep it close was Alvin Singleton and his 17 points, along with teammate Ricardo Polk’s 15 points.
Other top scorers to contribute to Richmond’s win were Lewis (9 points), Wall (8 points), senior guard Patrick McLaughlin (7 points) and junior forward Luke Williams (4 points). Both Lewis and Williams each scooped up four rebounds apiece.
“It was a big game from Paul. It was a nice performance from him inside and out,” McLaurin said of McNeil. “He had a great night shooting, rebounding and passing the ball. His first shot was a really deep three, and he told me then he knew he had it going.
“It’s a good thing to have,” he added of Richmond’s depth and experience. “We really love there’s no jealousy on the team. The seniors will share the ball especially if someone like Paul is shooting well. There’s a lot of trust and belief on this team.”
McNeil was named the 9 Dime Fall League’s “Rookie of the Year” following Thursday’s performance, and League director Charles Clark said the freshman’s outing was “amazing.”
McLaurin also noted Williams’ effort off the bench, saying the forward made some “big plays in some big minutes” for the Raiders.
It will be a quick turnaround for the Raiders, as they’ll play No. 2 Westover High School (Westside) on Saturday for the title.
For much of the playoffs, Richmond has had a week between games, but McLaurin said the team’s energy and momentum should still be fresh heading into the final game of the postseason.
“I know we’ll be okay because the guys are ready to play,” McLaurin closed. “A day or two between games won’t hurt. We know what Westover can do, so we need to go out and execute. The key will be to play good defense and stay attached to their two really good shooters.”
In the season opener, the only time Richmond and Westover have played this season, the Raiders won 50-36. The teams finished the regular season with identical 5-1 records, but Richmond held the tiebreaker.
Tipoff for the championship game is set for 4 p.m. at New Life Christian Academy in Fayetteville.