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STILL DANCING: McNeil Jr.’s double-double guides No. 2 Raiders to 4A East regional championship

Paul McNeil Jr. hits a three-pointer over Rivers Knight in the first quarter of Tuesday's fourth-round playoff win. (Kyle Pillar, sports editor)

ROCKINGHAM — On their biggest stage yet this season, the Richmond Raiders “knocked down” the door to their first regional basketball championship appearance in over two decades on Tuesday.

Not only did the No. 2 Raiders advance to the Final Four of the NCHSAA 4A state playoffs, but they also notched another program record in the process.

With their 78-60 win over No. 6 Charles E. Jordan High School, the Raiders collected their 27th overall win. That’s the most in a single season in program history.

Using last year’s fourth-round loss as a motivation all season, Richmond and head coach Donald Pettigrew followed through and used several long scoring runs throughout the game to end the Falcons’ season.

For seniors Zion Baldwin and Dakota Chavis, it was a memorable way to play the last home game of their career.

Richmond used only five scorers in the win, led by recent N.C. State commit Paul McNeil Jr. He finished with a game-high 35 points and added a double-double with a team-best 11 rebounds.

McNeil Jr. shot 12-of-18 from the field with five three-pointers and a perfect 6-for-6 clip at the free throw line. As a team, Richmond finished 28-of-56 shooting (50 percent).

Fellow junior wing Jullien Cole dropped 23 points and added a trio of triples. Chavis came up big in the second half, netting eight of his 11 points after halftime.

Senior Dakota Chavis (5) looks to make a pass during Richmond’s fourth-round win. (Kyle Pillar/The Richmond Observer)

Off the opening tip, it was all Cole, who opened the game on a 7-0 run by himself. A triple, a drive and a breakaway jam put the Falcons (21-10) on their heels early.

But Jordan answered with an 11-3 run over the next 2:45 seconds to take a one-point lead. A jumper from Ronald Bridges Jr., who had 17 points, put the Falcons up 11-10.

In the final three minutes of the opening quarter, the Raiders’ offense clicked into gear again, this time ending in a 12-2 scoring stretch. 

McNeil Jr. splashed in a pair of three-balls from the right wing to make it 16-13. Junior Jamarion Wall drove the lane and made a no-look pass to Cole under the basket for two more points.

Cole scored the next four points on a pair of free throws and a drive to give Richmond a 22-13 lead heading into the second. Scoring all of Richmond’s points early were Cole (13) and McNeil Jr. (9).

Fans celebrate after junior Jullien Cole (24) made a three-pointer in the first quarter. (Kyle Pillar/The Richmond Observer)

The Falcons outscored Richmond 16-14 in the second period, but the Raiders still carried a 36-29 lead into halftime.

Junior guard Javian Drake put Richmond up by double digits for the first time when he drained a three-pointer from the top of the arc for the first of his seven points.


Jordan chipped away to make its deficit just six points, but a 7-5 run by Richmond over the middle part of the quarter maintained the lead. 

A left-handed drive from Cole, a stepback jumper by McNeil Jr., one free throw from Chavis and a McNeil Jr. bucket on an inbound pass contributed to the run. 

A jump stop shot from Chavis and another Cole drive accounted for Richmond’s final four points of the second. A three-pointer near the buzzer by Walker Woodall (13 points) pulled the Falcons closer.

The same four Raiders who scored in the second quarter — Chavis, Cole, Drake and McNeil Jr. — combined to net Richmond’s 18 points in the third frame.

Triples from McNeil Jr. and Cole from opposite sides of the floor opened the scoring, and Chavis drove past a pair of defenders for a layup to make it 44-31. That double-digit lead would hold for the rest of the game.

In the second half of the third, McNeil Jr. scored on a tip at the rim and finished the period with a drive. In between those baskets, Drake had a baseline drive and Chavis added a field goal and hit two one-and-one free throws.

Junior Javian Drake (3) moves past a defender to lay in two points in the third quarter. (Kyle Pillar/The Richmond Observer)

Carrying a 54-37 lead into the final eight minutes, Richmond slowed the tempo and limited Jordan’s chances. The offense worked out to its largest lead of the game, 22 points, following a crossover three-pointer from Cole.

McNeil Jr. did most of the scoring in the fourth, adding his final 15 points. He scored six free throws, three field goals (including a two-handed dunk) and one more three-pointer.

Drake, Chavis and Wall each scored two points to seal the deal and keep Richmond’s season alive.

Next up for No. 2 Richmond (27-2) is a trip to the 4A East regional championship against No. 5 Holly Springs High School (27-5).

The two remaining teams in the 4A East will face off for a bid to the state championship game on Saturday, March 4, at a neutral site (to be determined at the time of publication). 

Holly Springs upset No. 1 New Hanover High School 74-61 in the fourth round on Tuesday.

The Richmond Observer will continue its postseason coverage of the Raider basketball team throughout the week. 

A photo gallery of Tuesday’s win over Jordan will be published shortly.

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Kyle Pillar is a 16-time North Carolina Press Association award-winning sports editor with The Richmond Observer. Follow the sports department on Twitter @ROSports_ for the best in-depth coverage of Richmond County sports.