ROCKINGHAM — Neither Richmond Senior’s Leon Zeigler nor Vance’s Cameron Hamilton could be stopped in Tuesday night’s first-round matchup between the Raiders and the Cougars.
Both Zeigler and Hamilton were relentless as the game came down to its most crucial moments. Whether it was a much-needed shot from downtown or an easy basket around the rim, they refused to back down from the pressure.
Hamilton was able to record a game-high 63 points, but Zeigler’s 42-point performance helped Richmond take home a close 123-118 victory and advance to the second round of the 4A NCHSAA State Playoffs.
“For him to drop 63 and we still pull out the win, I don’t know what to say. He’s a good player and I respect his game,” Zeigler said of Hamilton. “I told him that during the game.”
For the first five minutes, Richmond (20-6) seemed to be in control. Tone Diggs opened the game with a layup, which was followed by a Vance turnover and a bucket from Trey Smith — giving the home team an early 4-0 lead.
The Raiders would capitalize on a few more Cougar turnovers in the following minutes and expand its lead to eight points, but a three from Hamilton around the 3-minute mark shifted the game’s momentum.
Vance (21-7) got a putback layup from Michael Roberts, two free throws from Justin Freeman and a pull-up jumper from Hamilton in order to take the 24-23 lead. And that’s when Hamilton caught fire.
The senior guard stole the ball at halfcourt and then laid the ball up through contact — he would make the free throw. Back-to-back misses from Richmond led to back-to-back 3-pointers from Hamilton and a 10-point lead for the Cougars. He would finish the first quarter with 20 points.
After only scoring three points in the opening period, Zeigler went for 17 in the second quarter. However, his team still trailed 62-51 at the half.
Richmond began to slowly chip away at its deficit in the third quarter, as Diggs’ floater and Zeigler’s shot from downtown got the Raiders off to a good start in the second half. A couple of minutes later, Devonta McNair knocked down a triple and tied the game 79-79. Hamilton answered in order to give Vance a quick two-point lead but Richmond wouldn’t go away.
Jordan Tillman’s layup, which knotted the game up at 88-all, was followed by a travel call on Vance. With the ball in his hands and a chance to take the lead back, Zeigler pulled up from deep. His shot was no good, but the referee called a foul on Hamilton and rewarded Zeigler with three shots at the foul line.
He would make all three of his free throw attempts, giving Richmond a 91-88 lead heading into the fourth.
Although Vance was able to tie the game two different times in the final period, it never regained the lead. Smith ruined any chances of a comeback when he snagged a key offensive rebound for Richmond and put it back in while getting slapped on the wrist. He would make the free throw and put the Raiders ahead 119-113 with 39 seconds left.
“I thought they (Vance) were really gassed in the fourth and we did some good things,” coach David Laton said. “I’ve never had a point guard play any better, in this type of game, than Leon did tonight — and that includes Chris Paul.”
Richmond now moves on to face Butler (27-0), the No. 1 seed in the West bracket, who defeated R.J. Reynolds 74-50 in the first round. That second-round matchup will take place at Butler on Thursday. Tip is set for 7 p.m.
“We’re just going to have to bring what we brought to the plate tonight,” Zeigler said.
Reach sports editor Leon Hargrove Jr. at 910-817-2673 and follow the sports section on Twitter @RCDailySports.