University of Richmond led Virginia Commonwealth University for the first 30 minutes, but the Rams rallied late without its two point guards and pulled out Thursday night’s slugfest, 56-50, to sweep the season’s two-game series with the Spiders.
VCU head coach Shaka Smart called tonight’s win at the loud, sold-out Robins Center character building.
“That was as much of a grind of a game as we’ve had all year,” Smart said.
VCU trailed 40-36 with over 11 minutes to play when junior Briante Weber, the Ram’s all-time steals leader, picked up his fourth foul. VCU took its first lead at 8:57 mark, but freshman JeQuan Lewis, the Rams’ other primary point guard, joined Weber on the bench after picking up his fourth foul.
Junior Treveon Graham, who led the Rams with 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, led the ball-handling duties in the six-minute stretch when both Lewis and Weber sat.
“Coach believes in me to bring the ball up and handle the ball,” Graham said, “so I think the confidence he puts in me can help us.”
Richmond did not let VCU pull away. Junior Kendall Anthony hit a 3-pointer with 1:34 left, cutting the Rams’ lead to two.
Trailing 52-50, Richmond had a final chance to level the score, but neither Anthony nor sophomore Alonzo Nelson-Ododa could finish in close. Graham secured the rebound and hit a pair of foul shots with six seconds left to clinch the victory.
“I’ve been practicing my free throws a lot during practice,” Graham said. “And coach and I just talk about the process and not the results. So I just stepped up to the line and just followed the process and made them.”
“This is a painful loss, because the game means so much,” Richmond head coach Chris Mooney said.
VCU’s well-known Havoc defense forced Richmond into 15 turnovers – six more than they committed in February’s 81-70, which turned out to be Cedrick Lindsay’s final collegiate game.
Freshman ShawnDre’ Jones, who has been Lindsay’s replacement, struggled against VCU’s athletic guards, as he shot just 1-11 and committed five turnovers.
“There’s a lot on the guards anytime VCU plays you,” Mooney said. “Because [Jones] shot poorly, I’m sure he feels it was a bad game. But this is a great experience for him. I think the kid’s gonna be a very good player.”
Richmond did manage to force the Rams into 15 turnovers themselves, and the Spiders limited the Atlantic 10’s top offensive rebounding team to five offensive boards.
“I thought our defense was great. Just great,” Mooney said. “ I can’t think of too many breakdowns, and…we stayed out of foul trouble.”
Anthony, who finished with 20 points but shot 6-18, scored five points in the first minute to give Richmond an early lead.
“He’s asked to do a lot,” Mooney said. “I’d take that kid over anybody in the country.
“No matter what his final stats are, I think he impresses everyone that sees him play.”
Nelson-Ododa, who led the Spiders with nine first-half points, hit a foul shot to complete a four-point play that gave Richmond a 16-8 lead more than 11 minutes in. Richmond led by as much as 10 in the opening half, but Graham, who scored 10 points on 4-5 shooting, kept the Rams close. The rest of the Rams combined to shoot 4-17 in the opening 20 minutes. Richmond led 26-22 at the half.
“They made some adjustments tonight and really clamped down on us,” Smart said.
Richmond led by 11 six minutes into the second half, but an 8-0 VCU run cut the Spiders lead to 37-34. VCU went on to tie the game at 40, and Richmond did not lead for the rest of the game.
Richmond took a bus to the airport following the loss to travel to University of Dayton, where it will play the Flyers in Richmond’s final regular-season game Saturday.
Playing at Dayton two days following Thursday’s emotional loss will be challenging but is not all bad, Mooney said.
“I think it’s good to feel that pain,” Mooney said. “I don’t think that’s a negative thing, to feel like you came up short. Hopefully, you can use that as motivation, and that’s what we’ll try to do.”
The A-10 tournament begins in Brooklyn Tuesday with a play-in game between the two last-place teams, and Richmond will play its first tournament game Wednesday.