ROCKINGHAM — Donald Pettigrew reminded the No. 2 Richmond Raiders that “we’ve been here before” following Saturday’s third-round playoff win.
What the sixth-year head coach was alluding to was making it to the fourth round of the NCHSAA 4A East state playoffs for the second year in a row.
Grinning, Pettigrew also reminded the team that three wins are in the books and just three wins separated the Raiders from the program’s first state championship.
Last season’s run ended in an upset loss on its home floor when No. 5 Cleveland High School eliminated No. 1 Richmond 83-62.
That sting has worn off, but the memory and motivation of that loss hasn’t gone away.
“We’ve talked about that game and the way we’ve felt since that loss,” Pettigrew said. “I made sure the guys saw how Cleveland celebrated on our floor so they knew how that celebration could feel. And I wanted them to be humbled by that experience.
“As a team, we’ve kept that in our minds all season and our goal is to knock down that fourth round door this year. In order to do that, we have to value every possession, make the right reads and play almost perfectly to move onto the regional championship.”
The next opponent that Richmond hopes to send home is No. 6 Charles E. Jordan High School. The Raiders are eyeing their first return to the regional finals since the 2000-01 season.
The No. 6 Falcons upset No. 3 Millbrook High School 85-80 in overtime in the third round, eliminating a team with two Division I recruits and a 1,000-point sophomore.
Jordan won the rematch of last year’s third-round playoff game with Millbrook, setting up its meeting with the Raiders. Richmond hasn’t played the Falcons during Pettigrew’s tenure.
“Their best player is Ronald Bridges Jr.,” Pettigerw said of the senior guard. “He’s a 6-3 slasher who thrives in transition and the open court. Bridges scored 33 points, including seven in overtime against Millbrook.”
In preparation, Pettigrew said the Raiders are also getting ready to face two players who are 6-5 guards — senior Walker Woodall and junior Javier Ortiz.
“Both prefer playing on the perimeter,” Pettigrew commented, “and neither will take over the game. But both are adept at finding their moments or spots to make meaningful impacts.”
Sophomore guards Derek Ross Jr. and Drew Johnson are both players Pettigrew called “lightning quick.”
Rivers Knight will be the tallest player on the court on Tuesday for either team, a 6-9 forward who is also a freshman.
“He is long and wiry and not a back-to-the-basket player,” Pettigrew noted. “He will not seal his man on the block and he will demand the basketball 20-plus times. We have to respect his outside shooting, too.”
Again, Pettigrew was adamant about Richmond’s team defense, saying that the Raiders played better in the third round than in the second round.
Through three playoff games, Richmond is allowing 60.0 points per game while netting 81.0 points per four quarters on offense.
Richmond’s top two scorers this postseason are juniors Jullien Cole (26.3 PPG) and Paul McNeil Jr. (19.7 PPG).
The game between No. 2 Richmond (26-2) and No. 6 Jordan (21-9) will start at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
Below are some quick hits about the Jordan Falcons:
- The Falcons are coached by Derek Ross, have won their last four games and are 9-5 while playing on the road.
- Jordan placed first in the DAC-VII Conference standings this winter, going 13-0.
- Entering the fourth round, the Falcons have averaged 69.3 points per game, the highest average of any of Richmond’s postseason opponents.
- The Falcons give up 61.8 points per game, the highest amount of any of Richmond’s playoff opponents except for Purnell Swett in the first round (61.8 PPG).
- In their last two playoff wins over No. 11 Laney and No. 3 Millbrook, Jordan has only won by an average of 3.5 points.
- Bridges Jr., who wears No. 15, leads the team in scoring (18.2), rebounding (7.0) and steals (2.7) per game.
- Jordan’s only other double-digit scorer this season is Woodall (13.0), who is fourth on the team with 4.6 rebounds per game.
- Knight (6.2) and Ortiz (5.3) are the Falcons’ other top rebounders.
- The Raiders have better team averages in rebounds (35.9), assists (20.1), steals (12.6) and turnovers (9.1) per game than the Falcons (30.7 RPG, 15.8 APG, 8.9 SPG and 11.5 TPG).
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