BROOKLYN, N.Y.—After falling to Richmond twice this season, most recently suffering a 67-63 double overtime defeat on the road in late February, No. 5 seed VCU (24-9) was seeking postseason revenge against the No. 4 seed Spiders (19-13) in their A-10 quarterfinal matchup at Barclays Center on Friday.
And that’s just what the Rams got, taking down the Spiders, 70-67.
VCU squeaked by Fordham University Thursday 63-57 to advance to the quarterfinals of the A-10 tournament for the third time in three years. VCU also faced Richmond last year in the quarters, and led by point guard Briante Weber, was able to eliminate the Spiders. The Rams were able to succeed without Weber, who is out for the season after tearing his ACL, MCL and meniscus against Richmond on Jan. 31, in large part due to junior guard Melvin Johnson’s 23 points.
The game was a verifiable ping-pong match, characterized by 15 lead changes and five ties. The back and forth volley caused VCU’s Johnson to lose his shoe early in the second half, yet he was still able to get a bare-footed, play-halting defensive deflection—seemingly a good omen in the Rams eventual victory.
[daily_cut.college basketball]“That was another great basketball game between VCU and Richmond,” VCU head coach Shaka Smart said. “I think these games are obviously really exciting for the fans and everyone that watches. But that win was really big for us because we've had some close games that we have not been able to finish and pull out.”
VCU, which shot 61.5% from beyond the arc in the first half, made just 2 of 8 threes in the second half, with its first not falling until the 3:40 mark. However, the second triple came when it counted, with guard Doug Brooks sinking a three with just a 1:38 to play, giving VCU a 62-60 lead that proved to the most important momentum swing in the game.
VCU capitalized when senior guard Kendall Anthony, Richmond’s scoring leader (16.3 ppg), made two critical errors in the last 54 seconds. With VCU leading Richmond 65-62, Anthony missed the front end of a one-and-one to give the Rams the ball with just under a minute left. However, Treveon Graham was unable to finish a layup on the other end for the Rams, allowing Anthony the chance to rectify his mistake after grabbing the rebound.
With just 18 seconds left, Anthony went bank-to-bank, hoping to put the Spiders within just a point of the Rams. But Anthony lost the ball—and the game—on an erratic fastbreak that ended in a Richmond turnover under its basket. Despite the errors, Anthony led all scorers with 26 points, and Smart is happy never to have to face him again.
“I'm just really glad that we don't have to play against [Anthony] ever again because this is the ninth time we've played him, and I think eight out of the nine times, he's played phenomenal," Smart said.
The Rams were able to clean up from there, with Johnson sinking four consecutive free throws in the final 15 seconds.
“We've been practicing pressure free throws for six, seven months now,” Johnson said. “So I was definitely comfortable. At the same time, I'm a confident shooter. All that together, I felt confident.”
Anthony, hoping to redeem himself one last time, was able to sink a Hail Mary three with just two seconds on the clock. But sophomore guard JeQuan Lewis, who finished with 10 points, made the first of his two ensuing free throws for VCU, and T.J. Clint’s three-quarter desperation shot bounced off the backboard.
The Rams are now 31-9 in March under Smart. And they’ll be looking for revenge again when they take the court on Saturday to face Davidson, a team that beat them 82-55 on March 5.
“[Davidson] just humiliated us on ESPN a week ago” said Johnson, “so I feel it's going to be a good game.”