SOUTHERN PINES — Even after trailing by 19 at halftime, Richmond Senior seized the momentum in the second half and was on the brink of pulling off a come-from-behind victory.
The only obstacle was the Raiders needed about two more seconds on the clock.
Tre Pettigrew’s game-winning 3-point field goal attempt from 30-feet missed the mark as time expired allowing Pender to escape with a 72-71 victory in the opening game of the annual Holiday in the Pines tournament at Pinecrest. Richmond has now lost three in a row to fall to 5-4 on the season, while Pender improved to 4-5.
“If we had more time left, maybe Tre gets to the basket instead of having to shoot that shot,” Richmond coach David Laton said. “After playing our worst first half of the season, we came back and played our best second half. We have to put two halves together. We just have to get after it.”
Pender opened the fourth quarter with back-to-back baskets from Devin Hansley and Tyrice Murphy to stretch its lead to 66-50 before going scoreless over the next 3 1/2 minutes. This scoring lull allowed Richmond to creep back into the game.
Junior varsity player Lavell Ellerbe scored all five of his points in the final frame to give the Raiders a spark off the bench. Ellerbe wasn’t the only JV player to see action in the game as Demetrius Leake also saw the majority of his minutes in the fourth quarter. Leake had a steal and a layup to cut the deficit to 72-71 with 27.5 seconds in the contest.
Just as in last week’s loss to Fairmont in the second round of the Robeson County Shootout when Richmond played the first half without two starters, Laton was forced to play shorthanded against Pender. Laton suspended four players, including starting point guard Xavier Davis, for violating team rules. The absences created spots on the roster for Ellerbe and Leake.
After a timeout following Leake’s layup, the Raiders attempted to create another turnover but were unsuccessful as 17 seconds ticked off the clock before Ellerbe was whistled for the team’s third foul of the half. This forced Richmond to foul four more times in less than five seconds to put Pender into the bonus.
“We told them to go out there and foul if they couldn’t get the turnover,” Laton said. “We told them to try to strip the ball and get a foul.”
Romell Hansley missed the front end of the 1-and-1 with 4.5 remaining in the contest. Pettigrew grabbed the rebound and dribbled up the right side of the court before launching the final shot of the game that fell harmlessly to the floor.
Pender coach Gary Battle said inexperience played a big role as his team watched its big lead slip away.
“We are really young…my guards are freshman and sophomores,” he said. “They panicked when they were pressured. We knew they were going to make a run at us and we tightened up.”
The Patriots had five players in double figures led by Murphy, who scored 16. Pettigrew finished with 15 points and was one of three Richmond players in double figures. Greg Patterson netted a game-high 22 points and T.J. Watkins chipped in with 11.
Richmond will return to action 6 p.m. today against North Moore in the third-place place. North Moore lost to Pinecrest 69-34 Friday in the other semifinal matchup. The loss dropped the Mustangs to 5-4 on the season.
— Sports editor Shawn Stinson can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14, or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @scgolfer.