By Maurice Patton
LYNNVILLE – Greg Tipps recognized Monday’s Class A sectional opponent – perhaps more than he did his own team.
Richland, which had its 2020 season ended one game short of the state tournament by Tipps’ Loretto squad, returned the favor with a 60-41 victory. The Raiders claimed a berth in the state quarterfinals, where they will face North Greene on March 17 at Middle Tennessee State University’s Murphy Center.
“I thought the whole night, you can tell they have five starters off last year’s substate team, and you could tell we were replacing three,” Tipps said after his Mustangs committed 10 first-half turnovers and trailed for the final 26 minutes of the matchup.
“They’re really good. They’re a very experienced team. I thought they imposed their will the majority of the night.”
In the clash between Associated Press Top 10 foes – Richland was ranked No. 3 in the final Class A regular-season poll, Loretto No. 4 – the visitors forged ahead early but turned the ball over on three consecutive possessions, the last two leading to Daniel Nicholson scores that gave the Raiders (26-1) an 11-6 advantage going into the final minute of the opening quarter.
“We felt a little pressure in the first quarter,” said Nicholson, who finished with a game-high 23 points. “But we got settled down. We played defense and rebounded, kept it simple like that. They were bigger than we were. We felt we needed to keep them off the glass.”
Loretto got a 3-pointer from Caleb Davis with 57 seconds remaining to narrow the margin, but Logan Helton answered with a trey at the four-second mark to make it a five-point game. Helton, who scored 19 points in the win, added a 3 on Richland’s opening possession of the second quarter, and another with four ticks left in the half that pushed the lead up to 33-19.
“He’s been doing that all year,” Raiders coach Jason Loveless said regarding Helton’s scoring ability with the clock coming down. “He’s done a good job executing at the end of the quarter.
“Sometimes you’ve got to make plays, but the biggest thing is the toughness – the mental toughness, the physicality. That was my biggest question about this team coming into the season. They’ve proven this last couple of weeks, they’re pretty gritty.”
Though Loretto (17-5) shot the ball better in the first half – 67 percent from both the floor (8-12) and behind the arc (2-3) – those miscues impacted the Mustangs’ offensive efficiency. Richland, with just one turnover before intermission, shot 11-for-24 from the floor and 4-for-10 from 3-point range.
“I felt like we were right there the entire first half,” Tipps said. “It just seemed like we’d take two steps forward, and two steps back. There were plays there, they made them, and we didn’t finish. Credit to them. We knew what they were doing. They were ready to make plays when they were there to be made.”
The Mustangs cut the deficit to 33-24 on a Xavier Young putback and a Young trey on consecutive possessions, the latter with 5:16 left in the third quarter. But a pair of Nicholson free throws – Richland went 22-for-26 from the line – helped Richland score on three of its next four possessions, take a 15-point lead and virtually cruise.
“We got to this point last year and Loretto knocked us out,” Loveless said. “I think these kids had their minds made up. Early on, it was really hard for us to score. They’re a good defensive team, they’ve got some size inside. But we kept grinding. Defense and rebounding were our mainstays.
“We knew we’d probably labor to score, they’re so well coached and so disciplined on defense, so our ball pressure was huge. Anything we could get in transition would be big – ball pressure and making plays.”
Trey Luna added 10 points for Richland. Shaler Hankins scored a team-high 13 points for Loretto.
For the Raiders, the victory sets up a trip to Murfreesboro – the first since 2013, when they fell to Lake County in the Class A state semifinals.
“It’s a great feeling,” Nicholson said. “I’ve never been before. I think it’ll be a great experience. We’re excited. We’re ready.”
Richland boys 60, Loretto 41
L 9 10 14 8 – 41
R 14 19 14 13 – 60
Loretto (41) – Shaler Hankins 13, Caleb Davis 6, Xavier Young 5, Brendan Tipps 7, Tabias Sirmones 7, Clint Seymore 3
Richland (60) – Tyrell Randolph 5, Logan Helton 19, Daniel Nicholson 23, Trey Luna 10, Stevie Ballinger 3
3-pointers – Loretto 4 (Davis, Young, Tipps, Seymore), Richland 6 (Helton 4, Nicholson, Luna)
Photos by Ric Beu / SM-Tn Sports