ROCKINGHAM — The hype for this game has been building since the beginning of the season — the defending Southeastern Conference champion versus the team with a chance to claim the crown if the favorite falters.
Mix in two of the conference’s top players going head-to-head and it is not surprising the matchup has been anticipated for weeks.
Richmond Senior coach David Laton is trying to act like tonight’s game with Hoke County is just one of the 10 league games his team has to play, no different than last week’s SEC opener against Purnell Swett or next Friday’s battle with Lumberton. Laton uses last season as example, after the Bucks swept his team, the Raiders rebounded to advance to the third round of the 4A state playoffs before losing by one point at Davie County.
However, deep down Laton knows there is a little more riding on the contest, especially with the school selling T-shirts to wear during a “green out” of Raider Gym. Plus, for the first time in his tenure at Richmond, Laton took one of his teams to watch an opponent as they witnessed Hoke take on Westover Tuesday night.
“We wanted to make sure we saw them play,” Laton said of the scouting trip. “Plus, it was a good bonding thing for the team. They actually saw what is going on with the other team instead of us sitting there and trying to tell them. I don’t think we will have a problem with focus.”
The Bucks lost for the second time in 13 games, falling to the Wolverines, 77-72. Tarique Thompson, last season’s SEC player of the year, scored 28 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in the loss. For the season, Thompson is averaging 23.1 points and 10.5 rebounds a game.
“He’s a legitimate Division I prospect,” said Laton, who coached collegiately at Maryland and the Naval Academy. “He gets a lot of his points on second shots. He can also hit the 3-point shot and can drive the ball. He has the whole package.
“We have to be aware of where he is at all times. Everyone else needs to guard their man, but they also have to be aware of where he is too.”
Even though Richmond (11-3, 1-0) doesn’t have anyone as versatile as Thompson, Shydamion Ellerbe has been the team’s go-to player. Ellerbe scored a game-high 19 points in the win over Purnell Swett and over the last five games, he is averaging 20 points.
“I think it will come down to emotion and aggressiveness on offense and defense,” Laton said. “Everyone talks about being aggressive on defense, but you also have to be aggressive on offense too. It’s going to be a 32-minute game and the start of the first half and the second half are going to very important. I have been telling the guys all week, the game doesn’t start until Friday night.”
NOTE: The “green out” T-shirts are available at the school for $8.
— Sports editor Shawn Stinson can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.