Akeem Richmond vs. the North Carolina Tar Heels

Like a lot of people in Sanford this week, I’m torn.

I graduated from the University of North Carolina. I reveled in the Tar Heels’ winning the national title twice in the last five years. And while I shuddered at the thought of caring even a little about the Heels’ chances in the NIT, I have to admit that I’ve been watching the games.

All along, though, as soon as the NCAA Tournament brackets were released without Rhode Island, the NIT did get more than just a tad interesting for us who live in Lee County.

I’ve followed Akeem Richmond and covered his games since he was at West Lee Middle. Tonight, he’s playing in Madison Square Garden against the Tar Heels. I know a lot of people will have tuned in to see how Akeem and his Rams performed, but here are my thoughts about what I saw in Tuesday night’s game.

Pregame

First things first, I’m not sure I see UNC winning this game.

While Rhode Island doesn’t exactly seem to thrive in halfcourt defense — maybe that’s how the Heels win this game — the Rams can flat-out run and gun. It’s the perfect offense for someone like Richmond to join and contribute quickly, and the exact kind of offense that UNC has had such trouble with this season. Unless Rhode Island wilts late, I think I’m leaning toward the Rams in this one.

I’m also interested in seeing who from UNC will be guarding Richmond when he’s in the game, and who Richmond will be matched up against. I get the feeling he’ll be pretty jacked for either of those assignments.

Should be fun no matter what happens.

First Half

Richmond will likely come in after the first TV timeout, and as we all know, his job is to hoist 3-point jumpers if he gets even a sliver of an opening.

I know, I know. You’re thinking what I’m thinking. Against Carolina’s typical 3-point, ahem, defense, the kid from Sanford just might have a big night.

A freaking big night.

OH GOOD GOD, THERE’S AN NIT CONSOLATION GAME!?

Yes, Tar Heels’ fans, your team can play for third place in the NIT two days after losing… in the NIT. What’s worse? Winning the NIT or finishing third in it?

Seriously, isn’t that a legitimate question?

(Wait, this just in — there doesn’t appear to be an NIT consolation game. Whew.)

You know, as the lowest seed left in the NIT, UNC only had to bring one set of uniforms.

Again, in the NIT.

Hurry up and get there, Harrison.

15:19 Being a running diary (of sorts) involving the Heels, I’m contractually obligated to mention this:

Deon Thompson is soft. Enough with the front-rim fadeaway, Deon.

There, I feel better now. Glad to get that out of the way.

13:49 And Richmond is in the ballgame. Here we go.

12:05 Richmond gets stuck defending Travis Wear for some reason, and after missing the mismatch (that’s our Larry Drew II) twice, Wear makes URI and Richmond pay with a put-back.

TV timeout should help resolve that situation.

11:14 Not long after Leslie McDonald slips Richmond for a deep deuce, Richmond gets a look and tries one from beyond the NBA 3-point line at the top of the key. Long.

10:02 Richmond suffers a turnover — just a little hesitant with an entry pass. But grabs a rebound on the defensive end. Oh, Heels 23-17, by the way.

7:45 Richmond on the break, on the left wing, good look from 3 — just misses.

6:11 He might just be a tad too far out. I know, I know, Akeem’s in range once he gets off the bus. Still, this one with a foot on the NBA line comes off the front rim.

But, and this should be noted, the Heels had Marcus Ginyard on him that possession.

5:11 Richmond has it, bringing it up the floor, weaves toward the right wing and lets it fly — and it’s off the other side of the backboard. Just hurried right now and trying to do too much.

And Rhody coach Jim Baron gets the freshman out of there. Give him time to settle down, though this is about the spot he usually comes out.

3:16 OK, talk me off the ledge here. Is it me, or is Tyler Zeller getting better?

Tie game at 30 at the half. Ugly first half. Richmond needn’t feel bad. The teams are combining to shoot 31.6 percent from the floor.

Second Half

15:28 Frenetic pace to start the second half, and Rhody leads 39-36 at the first break. Richmond should be in soon after the break, and shouldn’t feel bad about his first-half struggles. Only four 3s have been the entire game to this point. He’s standing out a lot less in the crowd.

But as we all know, he’s gonna keep shooting. And he should. It’s what he does, and, more importantly, what he’s asked to do by people who know a lot more about basketball than we do.

14:28 Rhody’s Delroy James just made a play that you had to see to appreciate.

13:12 UNC’s best offensive play might be laying it softly off the glass, missing, and having Jon Henson dunk it home. 42-41, UNC.

12:58 Richmond is in, and after missing another 3-point attempt, comes down the floor offensively, battles 7-footer Zeller for the rebound, and bounces it off the big man. Rhody ball.

Good play. Basketball play. A play you need to make when the shot isn’t falling.

11:38 Heels respecting Richmond’s shot, though. There’s no other way to say it. By placing Ginyard on Richmond — a long defender with good reach and a defensive reputation — it’s clear Roy Williams doesn’t want the No. 2 prep scorer from North Carolina to get any open looks.

11:13 Richmond tries to drive to the hole as three Heels converge. Trying to draw the foul. Didn’t happen.

10:51 A pass just off Richmond’s fingertips on the break.

8:59 Just not his night. Shot clock winding down, a late pass, hand in his face, Richmond air-balls a deep 3 from the wing. Too bad.

OK, THIS GOES IN ALL CAPS. I’VE JUST BEEN TOLD THAT WOODY DURHAM HAS CALLED AKEEM “RAYMOND” ALL NIGHT. UM, WHAT?!

7:59 And with that, Raymond Richmond is out.

6:13 Turnovers. Blocked shots. Missed shots. Ugly game, which the Rams lead 52-51.

6:00 Alley-oop, and it’s an 8-0 Rams’ run. 54-51.

4:37 Great line by Bill Raftery: “I can’t recall a more electric game with as few of finishes.”

3:45 Has anybody in college basketball had more shots rim out this season than Will Graves?

You know, with Rhody up by three here, Akeem Richmond could be sitting on another chance to play a big game in the Garden.

We might get a chance at a “Richmond Redemption” type headline in a couple of days.

Good closeup on Richmond during a montage highlight package of Delroy James by ESPN2. As rough a night as he’s had, Richmond is being a good teammate from the bench. No sulking there. That’s expected, but still good to see.

3:39 Why in God’s name is UNC shooting 3s when they have a huge size advantage? The Heels are 1 of 15 from behind the arc. That’s been by far the most frustrating thing about this team all season long. So careless with the ball and so careless mentally.

1:28 Big fader by Drew as the Heels trail 59-56.

Sorry, but I’m really, really torn here.

1:16 Turnover Rhody.

Foul Rhody. Oh boy.

No big deal, Heels can’t make foul shots.

Oh look, Drew made one. Heels are 4-11 from the line. 59-57.

55 seconds You know what? Drew isn’t scared. Give him that. After a missed front end by Rhody, Drew takes it to the hole and the game is tied.

26 seconds Oh, Rhody — four straight missed foul shots. Heels ball and the shot lock is off.

0:00 What the hell was that? Why call timeout? Surely Roy didn’t draw that up. Surely. Drew takes a bad 3 instead of driving to the hole, and we’ve got overtime.

Overtime

You know what? Rhody, so far, has given this game away. At least Richmond wasn’t on the floor for that last 3-minute debacle.

2:15 Well, would you look at that? Heels going inside in overtime. Zeller has five points and Thompson heads to the line for a three-point lead. Well well well.

41.3 seconds Dammit, Deon! High and soft rebound off the glass, and Thompson tries to tip the putback. Henson dunks that. Of course it’s a miss. SO FRICKIN’ SOFT!

22 seconds Heels up one, 68-67, and keep the ball.

0:00 Oh God, it ends like that?

Heels had the ball, Graves puts up a shot as the shot clock is winding down (Rhody didn’t foul with a 6-second shot clock discrepancy), and there’s a loose rebound.

Rams go after t — 3 seconds left — the chance of a run-out is there, but the Rhody player trips and falls and the ball falls to UNC as the clock winds out.

All year long, that specific play has been a point of emphasis for officials. No matter how innocuous it looks, a foul must be called there if the trip comes from the opponent.

Rhody should’ve had a chance to win it at the line.

And didn’t.

And Akeem Richmond’s sterling freshman season ends in an ugly way.

Final 68-67, Heels.

I have to say, I’m a little numb. I guess I’m glad the Heels won, but I hate the way it happened. Rhody gave the game away in the last 90 seconds of regulation, then the officials didn’t give the Rams their rightful chance at the end.

I feel bad for Akeem (0-6 FGs, 0-6 3FGs 0 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist 1 steal ), who clearly struggled, and I think I know now what I wanted to happen when the game was in the balance.

I think I wanted Rhody to win to give Akeem another chance at the Garden. I wanted to see him play again on TV and to continue to follow the reaction and love affair Sanford has had with him during this run.

But the Heels won.

And now we get to see another game where Deon Thompson shrinks in the paint, where Marcus Ginyard dribbles off his foot as he remains a shell of what he once was, and Larry Drew throws passes away in what is a meaningless tournament for a program like North Carolina.

Yeah, I think I would’ve rather seen Akeem get another crack at it.

In fact, I’m sure of it.

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Filed under ACC, Akeem Richmond, Alex Podlogar, College Basketball, Designated Hitter, Prep sports, Rhode Island, Southern Lee High School, Sports, Sports columns, The Sanford Herald, UNC Tar Heels

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