BROOKLYN – VCU got 23 points from Melvin Johnson and some timely defensive stops down the stretch to knock off Richmond 70-67 in the quarterfinals of the A-10 tournament at the Barclay’s Center
JeQuan Lewis added 10 more and Doug Brooks hit a key 3 pointer with 1:37 to go to give the Rams the lead for good. In the win, VCU stops the Spiders from becoming the first team in 17 years to beat them 3 times in the same season.
“Our guys really showed a good level of resolve” said VCU head coach Shaka Smart. “They were really speaking up in the timeouts about being there for one another and continuing to fight.”
In a game that featured 15 lead changes and 5 ties…Richmond held the biggest lead of the night at 8 points on two different occasions. The Spiders led by 6 with four minutes to play behind a game high 26 points from Kendall Anthony and 14 more from T.J. Cline.
“I thought we played well the whole game” said Richmond head coach Chris Mooney. “I thought we were aggressive. I think we had 48 points in the paint to their 14.”
“Both teams are extremely competitive. And the familiarity between the two makes it so much more intense.”
“Kendall Anthony is one of the best players in college basketball that I’ve ever had a chance to coach against” said Smart. “This is the ninth time that we’ve had to coach against him and I’m glad it stops there because he’s been phenomenal against us.”
The Rams outscored Richmond 18-9 over the final four minutes of the game as Johnson, Brooks, and Mo Alie-Cox all had big baskets down the stretch. VCU also held a distinct advantage at the free throw line where they made 16 of 19 attempts while the Spiders got to the line only 5 times and missed them all.
“That’s been our struggle point all throughout the course of the season, finishing games” said Johnson. “It’s a big win.”
“I think that guys started being more aggressive instead of worrying about the shots or the rebounds they missed” said Lewis, who played only 24 minutes because of foul trouble. “We said ‘We’ve got 7 minutes left so let’s just leave it all out here because it could be our last game in this tournament'”.
VCU now will face top seeded Davidson in Saturday’s first quarterfinal at the Barclay’s Center. The Wildcats handed VCU a 27 point loss back on March 5th at Davidson, the worst loss the Rams have endured under Smart.
“We have a little bit of confidence and a little bit of momentum going into this game” said Johnson, who was held to 4 points in that Davidson loss. “They kind of humiliated us.”
“You have a choice to make” Smart says he told his players about meeting Davidson again. “Do you want to step up and go out there and fight or do you want to think about the games you’ve played the last couple of days?”
“I think our guys will have good energy. You’re going to have to if you want to compete with a team like Davidson.”
The Rams are now 24-9 this year, one of just nine teams in the country to have won at least 23 games in each of the last nine seasons. The Spiders fall to 19-13 but are encouraged about their chances of making the field for this year’s NIT.
“Absolutely” said Mooney. “I think we’re pretty squarely in the NIT. That’s not everybody’s goal at the beginning of the season but we will readdress our team when we get back to Richmond.”