Virginia Commonwealth University’s campus is only a 10-minute drive to the Robins Center, but for the first half on Saturday night, Virginia Commonwealth played like a team that had just arrived from a cross-country flight. Richmond held VCU to 17 first-half points in Richmond’s 72-60 victory Saturday night in front of 8,906 fans at the Robins Center.
Richmond snapped a six-year losing streak to cross-city rival VCU. For Richmond senior Justin Harper, a Richmond native, the win was especially sweet.
“It’s a great feeling of redemption,” Harper said. “Ever since I’ve been here, we’ve never been able to knock the Rams off. Being able to do that at home really feels great.”
Harper was key in Richmond’s dominant first half. Eleven of his 16 points during the first half and came up with a high-energy play early during the half that set the tone for Richmond. Off of a missed 3-pointer by sophomore Darien Brothers, Harper skied in from the weak side to grab the offensive rebound. After coming down to the ground, Harper went back up for a layup to give Richmond a 4-0 lead.
Harper continued that strong play later in the half on back-to-back plays as VCU tried to get back into the game. On the first possession, Harper sunk a 3-pointer after Brothers broke VCU’s full-court press. He followed that up by getting the ball back in the same spot and instead of shooting it, he faked it and drove for the layup to put the Spiders ahead 25-9 with 6:32 left in the first half.
The biggest factor in Richmond taking a 23-point halftime lead was its ability to prevent VCU from getting any easy looks. The Rams missed their first nine shots and ended the half with six baskets, one fewer than the number of turnovers they had during the half.
“We tried to figure out who was guarding who,” senior Jamie Skeen said. “They switch off every time we used a pick and roll or every time we used a screen they switched.”
Coming into the game, the Rams averaged 10 3-pointers per game. But Richmond limited the Rams to one 3-pointer and it took the Rams nearly 36 minutes before senior guard Joey Rodriguez made the Rams’ lone 3.
“We were really focused on defending the 3-point line and did a good job,” Richmond coach Chris Mooney said. “They had a couple, like anybody will, that didn’t go in early but for the most part, we really made it hard for them to score, especially from 3-point range.”
Richmond’s stingy defense and strong shooting during the first half and the first three minutes of the second half allowed Richmond to hold a 30-point lead. That lead was set in an emphatic way.
It started out with the look of a bad play as junior Francis-Cedric Martel picked up his dribble near the Spider logo at midcourt. But Martel was able to orchestrate a give-and-go with senior Dan Geriot and Martel was able to get a step on his defender and run down the middle of the lane for a one-handed dunk.
VCU slowly chipped away at Richmond’s lead and was able to get it down to 13 points with two minutes left after a jumper by junior Bradford Burgess. At that time, VCU resorted to a defensive strategy of fouling Richmond and sending the Spiders to the foul line. At that point, Richmond was shooting 50 percent from the foul line.
Richmond was able to hang on thanks to going 5-6 from the line during the last two minutes, including 4-4 from senior guard Kevin Anderson.
Anderson led the Spiders with 21 points and had seven assists. VCU employed a full-court press all game but had limited success, forcing 13 Richmond turnovers.
“I had a lot of turnovers [four], but that’s expected against VCU’s pressure,” Anderson said. “They’re good, that’s what they do. … It’s tough going against their pressure, but our guys Justin and Dan were popping up in the middle for me so I had an easy outlet to throw it to them. Once I got it in the middle, it was easier to break.”
The win improved Richmond to 8-2 this year, and Richmond has won 22 of its last 23 games at the Robins Center. Richmond plays Georgia Tech next at 5 p.m. on Dec. 18 in the Battle of Atlantis at Paradise Island, Bahamas.
Contact staff writer Andrew Prezioso at email@example.com