SOUTHERN PINES — Sophomore Niem Ratliffe couldn’t have picked a better night to have the best game of his young career.
The 5-foot-10 Scotland guard scorched the Pinecrest High School nets to the tune of a career-high 39 points, lifting the Scots to a 94-85 victory over arch-rival Richmond Senior in the third-place game of the Holiday in the Pines tournament.
The win capped a positive showing for Matt Justin’s program during its time in Southern Pines — Scotland finished 2-1 during the three-day tourney, matching the total number of wins it had when it took the floor Monday for first-round action.
Much like Scotland’s opening-round tilt against New Life Christian Academy, the Scots and Raiders played an up-and-down, high-scoring affair that saw numerous runs by both squads and a plethora of lead changes.
The defining spurt of the contest came near the end of the third quarter — Scotland trailed 62-50 after Richmond’s Leon Ziegler sank a 3-pointer, but the Scots ended the period on a 16-0 run spearheaded by two Ratliffe 3-pointers and clutch effort plays from bench reserves.
“In the third quarter we started to settle down a little bit — we still had some turnovers here and there but I didn’t realize the run was 16-0,” Justin said.
Scotland took a 66-62 lead into the fourth quarter and never relinquished it from there, though Richmond (8-4) was able to fight its way back into the game like it did during its semifinal defeat to Mount Zion the night before.
Ratliffe, who was named to the all-tournament team for his play, drilled a 3-pointer midway through the fourth quarter to open up the Scotland lead to 77-68. The Scots experienced a brief offensive drought and Richmond close to within four points with 2:33 remaining, but Scotland effectively put the game away with a 6-0 run to increase the lead back to 10.
Ratliffe hit all four of his free throws in the waning seconds to cap a prolific night for a player that Justin says is improving each time he suits up.
“(Ratliffe) started off the season where he couldn’t make a shot to save his life and I think it was in his head a little bit,” Justin said. “He’s a pretty good perimeter shooter and now that he’s had a couple of games where he’s hit a few, his confidence is back. He played really well, and was active defensively.”
Two other Scots cracked double-digit scoring — sophomore Justin McRae and senior Willie Douglas added 14 points apiece. Scotland, which showcased impressive depth throughout the tournament, got contributions from a number of role players — senior Daekwon Tyson chipped in seven points, and though junior Alexander Farmer only tallied three points, Justin mentioned he provided a big life off the bench with his hustle on both ends of the floor.
Zeigler led the Raiders with 20 points, and Jaylan Terry netted 19.
Richmond coach David Laton said his team left too many opportunities on the floor to come away with the victory.
“We didn’t come out and play quite as hard as we should have,” he said. “We were missing too many shots around the basket. We were missing, not getting the rebounds, and if we got the rebounds, we were losing it.”
Scotland entered tournament action with a 2-6 record, but after winning two games and playing a one-loss Pinecrest team close, Justin feels his team can build on its performance once conference play begins in January. The Scots will host Jack Britt Tuesday before traveling to Purnell Swett for the SEC opener Jan. 8.
“After seeing some conference teams, I feel like we match up,” Justin said. “It was a good confidence builder to get a win against a conference rival.”
Mount Zion defeated Pinecrest 54-45 in the Holiday in the Pines tournament final, and Javae Lampkins was named the tourney’s MVP. Along with Ratliffe, Logan Vosburg from Orange, Donnie Haith from Pinecrest, Xavier Williams from Mount Zion and Richmond’s Terry were recognized as all-tournament performers.
Logan Martinez can be reached at 910-506-3170. Follow him on Twitter @L_Martinez13.