ROCKINGHAM — Richmond Senior coach David Laton looked over his scorebook and zeroed in on the difference between beating Hoke and losing the contest.
The free-throw line.
Hoke hit 16 of 21 of its free throws, including 8 out of 10 in the final 1:05, while Richmond connected on just 10 of 22.
“That was the difference in the game right there,” Laton said.
The Bucks used that advantage to pull away for a 77-66 victory over the Raiders Thursday night. The win allowed the Bucks (13-9, 8-1) to clinch the Southeastern Conference title.
Hoke will be the No. 1 seed for the league when the North Carolina High School Athletic Association reveals the 4A playoff bracket Saturday. Richmond (14-8, 6-4) will grab the second seed out the SEC. The final automatic berth will either be Lumberton or Scotland.
“We lost our first conference game to Richmond and a lot of people thought it was going to be down hill from there,” Hoke coach Quame Patterson said. “I still saw fire in the players’ eyes and I knew we would be OK.”
Since the loss to Richmond on Jan. 10, Hoke has reeled off nine straight victories, including eight in a row in the SEC.
“The guys figured out their roles,” Patterson said. “We are very young, but we have played in so many close games that the experience is so beneficial right now.”
Richmond needed the victory over Hoke to sweep the season series and hope for a Pinecrest victory tonight. If that would have occurred, the Raiders and the Bucks would have been tied atop the SEC standings. The tiebreaker would have gone to the Raiders as the conference’s top seed in the postseason.
Laton watched his team rally from a seven-point halftime deficit to tie the game at the end of the third quarter to keep its faint SEC title hopes alive. Hoke responded with a 10-2 run to open the final period.
“We were sagging inside and they made some tough shots,” Laton said. “They shot the ball well tonight. We couldn’t make enough stops. They were the better team tonight.”
Greg Patterson scored 25 points to lead the way for Richmond and Raheem Bowden added 13. Kory Jones netted 25 for Hoke.
“I thought Greg played a great game tonight and Raheem played with a lot of hustle,” Laton said. “We need more people to step up. We can’t beat a good high school team with just two guys stepping up.”
— Sports editor Shawn Stinson may be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14 or on Twitter @scgolfer.