AUGUSTA — Down 20 points late in the first half and 15 at the break, Richmond boys basketball coach Phil Houdlette wasn’t disappointed.

“I think (Waynflete) missed, like, two threes,” Houdlette said. “I couldn’t have been prouder of them in the first half. I thought we played fairly decent defense.”

He wasn’t panicking, either.

“I said to them, if we can get it to 10 by the third quarter or somewhere close,” Houdlette said, “then we would (have a shot).”

He was right, and it was almost enough. No. 2 Richmond rallied to narrow the gap to three points before falling to No. 7 and defending regional champion Waynflete, 57-52, in the quarterfinals of the Class C South tournament at the Augusta Civic Center.

Zach Small had 18 points and Matt Holt scored 16 for Richmond, which pulled to 55-52 with just under three minutes to go but couldn’t get any of their final seven shots to fall. Cody Tribbet added 15 for the Bobcats, while Asker Hussein and Jack Meahl scored 15 points apiece for the Flyers.

“I’d go to war with them with anybody,” Houdlette said. “They leave it on the floor. We were together, no garbage. It was a good game.”

A good game out of what appeared certain to be a blowout and quiet end to what’s been a dream season for the Bobcats (17-2). Richmond had no answer in the first half for the faster, taller and quicker Flyers (15-5), who finished in traffic and knocked down shots — including seven 3-pointers — en route to 63 percent shooting and a 40-25 halftime lead.

“I don’t think we played one possession of zone defense,” Houdlette said. “The rest of it was man. They made some tough shots.”

Houdlette stressed to his players that they just needed a few stops here and there, a few chances to break the Waynflete roll and give themselves an opportunity to inch back. And the Bobcats listened.

“We’ve been playing together since we were about 5 years old,” Small said. “We just came together and gave it one last shot.”

The Bobcats finished the third quarter on an 8-0 run, with Small hoisting up a 3-pointer before the buzzer that bounced off the rim before falling, making it 50-41 and bringing Richmond to Houdlette’s magic number. The rally continued in the fourth, with Small and Matt Rines hitting back-to-back threes to cut the score to 55-52 with 2:57 left.

While the Bobcats hit shots from outside, Holt led the effort on the interior, battling 6-foot-5 Yai Deng (13 points, seven rebounds) and working his way to 11 rebounds.

“All of my teammates were telling me I had to shut (him) down,” Holt said. “I know his skillset, and I knew I had to be physical. … I was crashing the boards.”

The Bobcats couldn’t muster one more make, however. Four possessions with a chance to tie went unfulfilled, however, and free throws from Deng and Hussein with 23.5 and 5.6 seconds left, respectively, ended it.

“We cut it down to three, and with a couple of shots or fouls the other way, we’d probably be on the other side,” Small said. “It’s just how it falls.”

Meahl scored 12 of his points and Hussein had 11 in the first half, putting the Bobcats’ tournament hopes in peril. The hole proved just too much to overcome, but it didn’t prevent Richmond from staging a rally that felt fitting after a regular season to remember.

“Everyone on the bench didn’t doubt us for a second, everyone in the crowd didn’t doubt us for a second,” Small said. “We all thought we were going to come back.”

“It’s been a great ride. It’s the best season we’ve ever ended up with,” Holt said. “Sixteen-and-one, one loss? You can’t really argue with that.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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