HARRISONBURG, Va. — Eric Medley is entirely too young to remember the “bad boy” Detroit Pistons teams that used in-your-face defense to win consecutive NBA titles in 1989-90.
That doesn’t mean that Medley can’t appreciate their style of play. That was proven on Friday when Amelia County used that philosophy to pull out a 45-40 2A state quarterfinal win over Richlands at James Madison University’s Convocation Center.
“We use toughness, we saw the way they play, toughness and they play defense and just the way they play overall,” said Medley, who has seen highlights of the Isaiah Thomas-led Pistons. “That is what we want to relate to and how we want to make ourselves seem.”
“They played good defense, strong defense and they helped pretty good,” Richlands senior Scottie Ball said. “It is hard to do anything against them.”
Richlands overcame a 20-7 second quarter deficit to lead three times in the fourth quarter, but the defense of the Raiders proved to be the difference, with Amelia County outscoring the Blue Tornado 7-2 over the final 1:30 of the game.
“Nothing was easy, just throwing the ball inbounds was difficult at times,” Richlands head coach Fred Phillips said. “Bringing it down the court was difficult at times, entry passes, every shot was contested. Hats off to Amelia County, they are a good team, well coached.”
It was a historic season for Richlands, which won its first two region games in school history and made their first-ever boys state tournament appearance, finishing the year with a 21-5 record.
Ball led all scorers with 24 points, along with 10 rebounds for Richlands, while Phillips’ son, all-time leading scorer Luke Phillips, added 12 points, nine boards and four assists.
“They are two of the best at Richlands High School to ever play the game,” Fred Phillips said. “You hear all kinds of stories, but I put this team up as the best ever at Richlands High School. The record speaks for itself, the history speaks for itself.
“There might be some other better players individually, but I will put this 2016-17 team up there as the best ever there at Richlands so far.”
Amelia County (22-6), which will play Madison County in the 2A semifinals today, was led by DeQuante Meadows with 11 points and six rebounds, and Jared Baker, who had nine points and eight rebounds.
It was defense, however, that carried the day for the Raiders, just the way they like it.
“All my years of playing basketball, I was always taught defense, defense, defense is going to win,” said Amelia County head coach Kevin Rather, who played at Virginia Union. “Of course, early on in childhood you think putting up shots is going to win, but we are going to play defense.
“I thrive on my team getting turnovers and getting points off of defense. That is how we got this far into the season.”
A Ball pass to Phillips under the basket gave Richlands a 2-0 lead, but the Blues wouldn’t lead again until Ball scored on an offensive putback and added a free throw for a 29-28 advantage going into the final period.
“We just couldn’t get nothing going, we clawed our way back,” Fred Phillips said.
“I thought we spent a lot of energy getting ourselves back into the game. We just had too many unforced turnovers.”
Amelia County took advantage of those miscues, building a 20-7 second quarter lead before Ball, who had 11 first half points, led a 12-4 run to end the half. Meadows swiped a pass in the backcourt and made a dunk in the final seconds to lift the Raiders to a 24-19 lead at the break.
“We turned the ball over a lot as a team. Whenever you are this far along the road and still playing in March, it is tough to beat a team with a lot of turnovers and missed opportunities,” said Luke Phillips, whose Blues had 16 turnovers, including nine in the first half.
“It was a hard-fought game. I think we could have played better obviously, it is just a tough loss.”
Richlands played the defense in the third period, holding the Raiders to four points, eventually taking that one-point lead into the final quarter. Ball (6), who was 8-for-14 from the field and 8-for-12 at the free throw line, and Phillips (4) combined for all 10 points for the Blues.
“They got up on us in the first little bit and then we just fought back,” said Ball, who played the final 5:56 of the game with four fouls.
“It was down to the wire pretty much the whole game since the second quarter. We just tried our best, we just didn’t come out on top.”
It wasn’t for lack of effort. There were three lead changes and three ties in the final period, with the final deadlock coming at 38-38 with 1:53 remaining on consecutive baskets by Ball off assists by Phillips.
That is when Baker, the Quad River Conference (34) Player of the Year did what he is known for, driving to the basket and scoring to put the Raiders up to stay at 40-38 with 53 seconds on the clock.
“He is a good kid, can score down low and can shoot out in the perimeter. He can bring the ball up on plays, he is a good passer,” said Rather, who said the Raiders used their patented man-to-man defense for all but a few minutes in the third. “Normally down in crunch time I want the ball down in his hands, he is going to make the right decision.”
Richlands had chances, but the only basket the Blues would make down the stretch was a tip-in off a missed free throw by Phillips to narrow the margin to 41-40 with 13.8 seconds left to play.
Baker than made two free throws, but Richlands got the ball down 3 with 10 seconds to play. Phillips, who struggled to a 4-for-17 shooting night from the field, drove to the basket, but was unable to get the ball to drop and couldn’t draw the foul.
“I knew we had to have a three,” Phillips said. “I was going to try to lift and get an ‘and-1’ real quick, but it didn’t work out real good.”
Baker was fouled again and made two free throws for the final margin in just the kind of game the Raiders like to play.
“Defense is what we feed on. When we play good defense it leads to offense,” said Medley, who contributed eight points and three steals. “That is what we always say, defense leads to offense. If we play defense there is no reason we should lose.”
Jamal Grant added nine points and Brendan Stanford had six points and seven boards for Amelia County, which made just 28.9 percent from the field compared to 35.1 percent for the Blues. Richlands, however, made just one 3-pointer and were just 13-for-25 from the free throw line.
“Amelia County is pretty athletic, they have got a team full of athletes,” Fred Phillips said. “We gave the old college try and we just came up empty.”
The senior quintet of Ball, Phillips, Grant Herndon, who had the only 3-pointer for the Blues, Ethan Ratliff and MacKenzie Smith played their final games, but certainly did plenty for Richlands boys basketball, an accomplishment they will never forget.
“I didn’t want to see my senior season and career go out like this, but we gave it our best shot,” Luke Phillips said. “I had the best teammates around that I would love to play for and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.”
— Contact Woodson at firstname.lastname@example.org
At JMU Convocation Center
AMELIA COUNTY (22-6)
DeQuante Meadows 3-11 5-6 11, Jared Baker 2-7 5-5 9, Cody Hawkins 1-5 0-0 2, Jamal Grant 4-11 0-4 9, Eric Medley 1-7 5-9 8, Brendan Stanford 2-3 2-4 7, Larry Jones 0-1 0-0 0, Bryan Harris 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 13-45 17-28 46.
Luke Phillips 4-17 4-6 12, Grant Herndon 1-3 0-2 3, Scottie Ball 8-14 8-12 24, Ethan Ratliff 0-0 0-0 0, MacKenzie Smith 0-0 1-3 1, Caleb Horn 0-2 0-0 0, Taylor Horn 0-0 0-2 0, Race Moir 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 13-37 13-25 40.
Amelia County....12 12 4 17 — 45
Richlands……......6 13 10 11 — 40
3-point goals: AC 2-15 (Grant 1-3, Medley 1-4, Baker 0-4, Meadows 0-2, Hawkins 0-1, Jones 0-1); RL 1-11 (Herndon 1-3, Phillips 0-5, C.Horn 0-2, Moir 0-1 ). Reb: AC 32 (Baker 8); RL 35 (Ball 10). Asts: AC 3 (Medley 2); RL 7 (Phillips 4). Total fouls: AC 19; RL 21. Fouled out: Hawkins, Grant. Technicals: none.