SOUTHERN PINES — Playing in front of a relatively small crowd was expected after Richmond Senior fell into the consolation bracket with a loss to Nansemond River in the first round of the Holiday in the Pines Tournament.
What was unexpected were the echoes of the basketball clanging off the rim following miss after miss by the Raiders at the free-throw line.
When the final horn sounded, Richmond missed 17 of its 23 opportunities. After missing its first three attempts of the contest, Middle Creek hit its final 12 from the line en route to a 66-58 victory Friday afternoon at Pinecrest’s James H. Moore Gymnasium.
“I told the players this was on them,” Richmond coach David Laton said. “We couldn’t make free throws down the stretch. It’s really frustrating.”
After trailing by as much as nine in the third quarter, the Raiders took the lead 55-54 on a Jalen McDonald jumper with 3:50 remaining in the game. The Mustangs answered with an 8-0 run over the next three minutes to seize control of the contest. Quinton Ray, who finished with 12 points, had a follow-up and a dunk during this stretch.
Meanwhile, Richmond’s free-throw shooting woes helped Middle Creek pull away, going 1 for 5 at the line over the final 2:09 of the game.
“I thought that the game came down to foul shots,” Middle Creek coach David Kushner said. “Yesterday we were 12-of-25 from the line against Mount Zion.”
The Mustangs’ Quentin Jackson connected on all five of his attempts, while Fred Iruafemi went 5-of-6 in the win.
The Raiders jumped out to a 16-8 lead in the opening moments of the second quarter after a 3-point field goal by Xavier Davis. Richmond maintained its advantage until going scoreless over the final three minutes of the first half. Middle Creek responded with a 10-0 run to close out the second quarter to take a 32-28 halftime lead.
“I’m really disappointed with the way we are playing,” Laton said after the Raiders dropped their second straight to fall to 8-3 on the season. “We don’t look like the same team as before Christmas. I don’t know what it is. Hopefully we are getting our yearly slump out of the way before conference starts.”
Khamari Bobbitt finished with a game-high 15 points for Middle Creek (8-4), while Jackson and Iruafemi both netted 13 in the victory. Shydamion Ellerbe was the lone Richmond player in double figures with 14. Jordan Richardson and Davis each added nine.
In the other consolation bracket contest, South Lakes (Va.) downed Heritage 58-46. The Raiders will face the Huskies (4-6) at 10 a.m. today in a battle for seventh place. The Seahawks (5-6) and the Mustangs will square off in the fifth-place contest at noon.
Mount Zion and Pinecrest will play for the championship at 4 p.m. The host school knocked off Southern Lee 53-46 in one semifinal contest, while Mount Zion upended Nansemond River (Va.) 47-37 to advance to the title tilt. The Cavaliers and the Warriors play for third at 2 p.m.
— Sports editor Shawn Stinson can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14, or by email at email@example.com.