BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Early in the first half of VCU’s Atlantic 10 Quarterfinal contest with Richmond Friday at Barclays Center, the league honored junior Briante Weber as Defensive Player of the Year with a graphic on the arena Jumbotron.
Below those glowing high-definition screens, Weber was already well on his way to proving he can do more than just defend. The 6-foot-3 guard scored VCU’s first six points Friday and hit his first seven shots of the game to fuel a lob-sided 71-53 victory over the Spiders. With the win, the Rams advance to the A-10 semifinals Saturday afternoon against George Washington, and complete a rare three-game sweep of the crosstown rival Spiders.
Weber scored 16 points in the first half as VCU built a comfortable 38-22 lead and finished with 18 points, five rebounds and two steals. He did it all in an efficient, game-altering 18-minute stint. Behind Weber’s offensive dominance, the Rams overwhelmed the Spiders early and were hardly threatened the rest of the night.
“I just came out with the mindset to attack, because in the prior game [with Richmond], I didn’t get to play that much,” said Weber, who came into Friday averaging 9.1 points per game this season. “So I actually wanted to play this game. So I came out with a chip on my shoulder, and I was just going to attack from the jump.”
Weber knocked down a mid-range jumper on VCU’s first possession, then ripped a steal and raced to a breakaway dunk for a 4-0 lead. A short time later, he was the beneficiary of a Juvonte Reddic offensive rebound, which he finished with a drive and floater. By then, Richmond was already on its heels. Moments later, there was a traditional three-point play, and then a layup. By the time Weber, who entered the game 8-of-37 from three this year, pulled up and hit a trey from the right wing in rhythm to give VCU a 23-13 advantage, two things became obvious. First, Weber was on his way to one of the best offensive nights of his career. Secondly, Richmond was in serious trouble.
“What happened early in the game was Briante was getting deep into the lane, and then he was showing the ball, and they were kind of jumping out of the way or jumping for the ball. So he turned and pivoted and had wide open shots at four feet, so he took them and made them,” said VCU Coach Shaka Smart. “And then sometimes, when you see the ball go in for yourself, your confidence starts to build and then he started making pull-up jumpers, he made a 3-point shot on a great pass, and from there, he got the ball going.”
Weber’s newfound offensive prowess allowed the Rams to storm to an early lead, and VCU was never seriously threatened in the final 30 minutes of the game.
“He feeds off of us, and we feed off of him, so when he does stuff like that, it just gets the whole team pumped up and just ready to play,” said freshman Mo Alie-Cox
“That’s Bri being Bri,” added senior Rob Brandenberg. “He got it going on early and once he gets in a groove like that, it makes our team that much more dangerous. I told him, if he plays like that, there’s a good chance we’re going to win.”
While he was the Rams’ best offensive player Friday, it’s not as if Weber allowed his trademark on-ball defense to suffer. In addition to his two steals and five rebounds, Weber led a contingent of Rams that limited Richmond leading scorer and sparkplug Kendall Anthony to a dreadful 2-of-15 shooting performance.
It was an all-around performance the Rams hope Weber can replicate, because it’s the type of play that can spur VCU both physically and emotionally.
“He already rubs energy off on us,” Brandenberg said. “When he’s on another level like that, it just makes you want to play that much harder. I think it’s a mindset. You think you’re playing hard until you see him play hard and you’re like, ‘oh, I need to step my game up.’”
RAMS DOMINATE GLASS
While Weber gave VCU an early boost, the Rams’ rebounding throughout helped prevent any Richmond notion of a comeback.
VCU outrebounded the Spiders by a 50-28 margin, the Rams’ second-largest rebounding edge of the season. On the defensive glass, the Rams were good. On the offensive glass, it was no contest. VCU grabbed 20 offensive rebounds, compared to six for Richmond. The result was a 22-2 advantage in second-chance points.
The Rams managed to control the glass despite the team’s leading rebounder, Juvonte Reddic, playing just 10 minutes due to foul trouble. Taking up the slack was Alie-Cox, who provided one of his best efforts of the season with seven points, 10 rebounds and two blocked shots off the bench.
“I played a lot of minutes in previous games this season, so it wasn’t that big of a deal, and I really just tried to get on the glass and make moves on offense to make up for Ju’s scoring,” Alie-Cox said.
Alie-Cox was one of five Rams to grab at least five rebounds Friday.
“We played with great energy tonight,” Smart said of his team’s rebounding dominance. “We felt like we could have an advantage on the glass if that was a point of emphasis for us. Our guys did a great job of following the plan, going hard to the offensive glass.”
VCU defeated Richmond for the third time this season. The Rams and Spiders have met at least three times in a season on nine occasions, and VCU has swept four of those series, including this year’s. The Rams’ last three-game sweep of Richmond came during the 1998-99 campaign, when both were members of the CAA… VCU turned Richmond over 14 times and enjoyed a 21-7 advantage on scoring off turnovers…With Friday’s win, Smart is now tied with Sonny Smith atop VCU’s all-time coaching victories list with 136. Smith compiled his 136 wins over nine seasons, while Smart is in his fifth year at VCU.